“Unemployment is really hard to handle,” said U Saw Tha Pyae, whose six elephants have been jobless for the past two years. “There is no logging because there are no more trees.”
Myanmar’s leading elephant expert, Daw Khyne U Mar, estimates that there are now 2,500 jobless elephants, many of them here in the jungles of eastern Myanmar, about two and a half hours from the Thai border. That number would put the elephant unemployment rate at around 40 percent, compared with about 4 percent for Myanmar’s people.
“Most of these elephants don’t know what to do,” Ms. Khyne U Mar said. “The owners have a great burden. It’s expensive to keep them.”
Adult elephants, which each weigh about 10,000 pounds, eat 400 pounds of food a day and, other than circuses and logging, have limited job opportunities.
Logging is arduous. But elephant experts say hard work is one reason Myanmar’s elephants have remained relatively healthy. A 2008 study calculated that Myanmar’s logging elephants, which have a strict regimen of work and play, live twice as long as elephants kept in European zoos, a median age of 42 years compared with 19 for zoo animals.
The military governments adhered to a strict labor code for elephants drawn up in British colonial times: eight-hour work days and five-day weeks, retirement at 55, mandatory maternity leave, summer vacations and good medical care. There are still elephant maternity camps and retirement communities run by the government. In a country where the most basic social protections were absent during the years of dictatorship, elephant labor laws were largely respected.
Interesting throughout — I wonder what is the natural rate of unemployment for elephants in a freer labor market…?