New Emissary

Burma’s Good-luck Elephant?

A rare white elephant in Burma is being celebrated by the junta – as a good omen.

Last week, the military junta in Burma reportedly held a ‘lavish welcome ceremony’ for a rare white elephant in the country’s capital, Naypyidaw.

The 38-year-old female animal was captured back in June by the Department of Forestry and Myanmar Timber Enterprise. Apparently, since the white elephant in Burma is considered a good luck omen, the government had been hunting them for some time now, to increase its clout and influence, especially with the (highly contested) upcoming election now set for November 8. White elephants, which are in reality not white but more reddish-brown or pink in colour, have been revered for centuries across South-east Asia for their symbolic qualities of power and good fortune.

You’d think that this sort of event might warrant a further outcry from the international community over animal rights, in addition to frequent complaints over human rights issues surrounding the country.

But, surprisingly, as the BBC reported back in June, major protection groups don’t necessarily condemn the treatment of white elephants in Burma—as the animals tend to be kept in ‘pampered conditions.’

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And the Myanmar Times, in an article published yesterday, reports that indeed, the 7-foot 4-inch animal will now inhabit a ‘specially built “White Elephant House,”’ nearby the religiously significant Uppatasanti Pagoda, that has ‘two pools with fountains, two dams, a bathing pond with a fountain, a sugarcane plantation, a medical centre and a feed store.’

According to the report, the elephant, which has been named Bhaddavati, is in the words of one official ‘so clever that it gestures for food whenever a man comes close. It lets people rub its body or trunk in a playful way.’

A colleague here at The Diplomat put forth a good point, when I mentioned the story, saying ' Burma's news service has not been known in recent years as a paragon of truthful and objective reporting, so here's hoping that the story of Bhaddavati's relative good fortune is accurate.'