Modeling population viability of captive elephants in Myanmar (Burma): implications for wild populations


Peter Leimgruber, Conservation Ecology Center, National Zoological Park, Smithsonian Institution, 1500 Remount Road, Front Royal, VA 22630, USA. Tel: +1 540 635 6589; Fax: +1 540 635 6506


Captive Asian elephants Elephas maximus, used as work animals, constitute up to 22–30% of remaining Asian elephants. Myanmar has the largest captive population worldwide (∼6000), maintained at this level for over a century. We used published demographic data to assess the viability of this captive population. We tested how this population can be self-sustained, how many elephants must be supplemented from the wild to maintain it, and what consequences live capture may have for Myanmar's wild population. Our results demonstrate that the current captive population is not self-sustaining because mortality is too high and birth rates are too low. Our models also suggest ∼100 elephants year−1 have been captured in the wild to supplement the captive population. Such supplementation cannot be supported by a wild population of fewer than 4000 elephants. Given the most recent expert estimate of ∼2000 wild elephants remaining in Myanmar, a harvest of 100 elephants year−1 could result in extinction of the wild population in 31 years. Continued live capture threatens the survival of wild and captive populations and must stop. In addition, captive breeding should be increased. These measures are essential to slow the decline and extinction of all of Myanmar's elephants.