The Last of Myanmar's Logging Elephants Photo Series

Myanmar is home to approximately 5,000 working elephants. For centuries, logging elephants have served as a traditional source of draught power here.

Navigating steep, mountainous terrain, these elephants are well-suited to the land and have significantly less of an environmental impact than heavy machinery. Handlers, known as mahouts, work with their animals for years and develop close bonds, often growing up alongside their animals. The animals are released at the end of the working day to live and mate with wild elephants, yet return every morning to be bathed by their handlers. 

But in addition to deforestation, poaching is an ever-looming threat to elephants here. Not only is ivory driving this demand, but in recent years, elephant skin has become more and more popular in medicine and jewellery. As wild populations dwindle, poachers turn their attention to their semi-wild cousins.

This photo series documents the case of a logging elephant poaching and the resulting autopsy performed by government vets. The team were responsible for removing the animal's tusks to prevent them from being sold on the black market. Devastated by the loss, the animal's handler has no choice but to look for work in a city, deprived of his companion as well as his livelihood. The future of Myanmar's elephants is uncertain - as deforestation and poaching erode the once-thriving population here, the question is whether protection of this species will be too little, too late.

  • Hannah Kaplan
  • Date Taken:
    January 4, 2019
  • Country of Origin:
    United Kingdom
  • Camera:
    Sony A7s
  • Lens:
  • Focal Length:
    24 mm
  • Shutter Speed:
    1/60 -1/400
  • Aperture:
  • ISO / Film:
  • Student Project:
Artist Biography

I am a content manager, filmmaker and photographer specialising in the production of advocacy films and communications materials for the non-profit sector. With experience working in the fields of sustainable development, conservation and animal welfare, I have worked closely with a number of international non-profits to produce engaging content for fundraising and advocacy purposes. Currently, I am the Content Manager at SPANA where I commission and produce documentaries on the subject of working animals in support of livelihoods and community development. I have produced films in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Tanzania, Morocco, India, Madagascar, Kenya and Ethiopia.

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Artist Statement

This was one of the most difficult projects I have ever had to shoot and I found myself very overwhelmed documenting the death and autopsy of this animal. Seeing the scale of human impact on both the environment and animals here, the result of a thriving underground market in elephant products, made me realise just how little time is left on these incredible animals. I hope that this photo series can communicate the immediacy of the problem and bring further awareness to the very real human and animal cost of the endangered species trade.