A man washes his working elephant and calf in Myanmar.

In a country that has opened up in recent years, SPANA is reaching a new species of working animal and tackling different challenges.

Professor Dr Ye Htut Aung, SPANA Myanmar Country Director talks about a day in the life of a SPANA vet.

Can you tell us about your background?

I graduated as a vet from the University of Veterinary Science (UVS) in Yezin, Myanmar in 1993, before obtaining my M Phil in Veterinary Medicine and Master of Veterinary Science (MVSc). I studied for my doctoral degree at the University of Veterinary Medicine, in Hannover, Germany. I am Professor and Pro-Rector at UVS, and am now SPANA Myanmar’s Country Director.

What are the main challenges facing working animals in Myanmar?

The main problems are infectious diseases, such as foot and mouth disease, and malnutrition, particularly during the dry season.

How important are working animals in Myanmar?

Working animals are still very important in Myanmar, which remains on the list of Asia’s least developed countries. For instance, there are over 12 million working cattle in the country, and these animals are integral to rural economies, providing almost all the power in agricultural production and acting as a key mode of transport.

Working elephants are a new species for SPANA. What are the main problems facing elephants used in the timber industry?

The main problems facing logging elephants are skin sores caused by harnesses, as well as infectious diseases. We are in the process of developing a new comfortable harness for elephants dragging heavy logs, which will help prevent rubbing and wounds. Infectious viral diseases are a major issue, since they are difficult to treat (particularly in young elephants) and Asian elephants are already endangered. We are looking to tackle the problem by conducting research into how we can prevent and control these diseases.

SPANA has only been working in Myanmar for a short period. What are the key successes so far, and your main goals for 2016?

Training for veterinary students in order to improve the standard of treatment given to working animals is a key part of SPANA Myanmar’s work. We have been very successful so far in developing the skills and knowledge of veterinary students by providing practical training on animal welfare, and the diagnosis and treatment of animal diseases. 

In the coming year, in addition to training at the Clinical Skills Centre (CSC), we will be helping newly-graduated vets to gain hands-on experience treating animals in the field – working under the supervision of SPANA vets during mobile veterinary clinic visits. We also hope to establish a SPANA education programme to teach primary school children between the ages of seven and 11 about animal welfare.

About our work

In our newest permanent country, Myanmar (also known as Burma), SPANA is initially operating one mobile veterinary clinic, providing treatment to working animals, especially working oxen. These oxen are relied upon by people in rural areas - dependent on subsistence farming for their livelihoods – to pull ploughs and transport produce. There is still widespread poverty in Myanmar and, without SPANA, so many people simply would not be able to afford veterinary care for their animals. 

SPANA is also improving the welfare of a new species of working animal for the charity – the 6,000 Asian elephants that work in Myanmar’s logging industry. These elephants require veterinary assistance for the health problems they can suffer, such as eye infections and skin conditions. 

Providing training to improve the skills and knowledge of Myanmar’s vets and veterinary students is a significant part of SPANA Myanmar’s work, ensuring that standards are raised and animals receive the best possible treatment.

SPANA operations

  • One mobile veterinary clinic visits 30 villages in rural areas surrounding Nay Pyi Taw
  • Over 6,000 veterinary treatments are expected to be provided to working animals this year
  • 226 final year veterinary students are receiving training from SPANA at the Clinical Skills Centre (CSC) and with the mobile clinic

Myanmar at a glance

  • Population: 51,486,253
  • Area: 676,578 km2
  • Location: South East Asia
  • Capital city: Nay Pyi Taw
  • Estimated working animal population: 19,093,000 horses, elephants, mules and oxen


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