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Birth of White Elephant Bodes Well for Myanmar [2012/01/06]

The calf rubs against the zookeeper.



Birth of White Elephant Bodes Well for Myanmar
Visit to Myanmar (3)


Because white elephants are extremely rare, people consider their sighting to be a propitious sign.

When a white elephant is found in Thailand, it is presented to the king and celebrations are held. The Most Exalted Order of the White Elephant is the name of the highest award bestowed by the king on individuals for service to the nation. My father, Sasakawa Ryōichi, had the honor of receiving that award from King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

In October 2010, just before a referendum on revising Myanmar’s constitution, a white elephant was discovered in Rakhine State, on its border with Bangladesh. The elephant, regarded as a good omen, was transported to Naypyitaw, the new capital of Myanmar, and has been carefully nurtured since then.

During my stay in Nay Pyi Daw, I took time off from my meetings with cabinet ministers to see the elephant. In an area open to the public, a white elephant and a baby not white in color were eating hay. My guide was Tin Nyunt, the former director general of the Department of Traditional Medicine, Ministry of Health. Tin Nyunt spoke with the zookeeper, and a gate then opened and we were permitted to enter.

Apparently, the white elephant found in Rakhine was pregnant, and two weeks ago she gave birth to a healthy calf. An elephant’s gestation period is 18 months. The newborn remains out of public view, but I received special permission to see it.

We walked about 100 meters along a quiet, shady road in a thickly wooded area. There we came upon an enclosure, not large, with the white elephant and her calf. The newborn’s skin was pink with a coat of white fuzz. It was hard to believe it was just two weeks old. It was adorable, boisterously running around its mother and on occasion rubbing against the zookeeper.

Not knowing anything about elephants, I was surprised to learn that whereas the teats of cows, sheep, and goats are located near the hind legs, elephants have just two situated between the front legs.

The images of the elephant in this blog entry may be the first released to the public.

Myanmar’s national symbol was formerly a peacock―chosen by Aung San when he was a general, as a symbol of power and good fortune. Later a lion was used to denote strength, even though the creature is not indigenous to Myanmar. And today it is a white elephant. A white elephant even graces the high-denomination 5,000 kyat note.

Now that national elections have been held in Myanmar, sessions of the parliament are being convened, and President Thein Sein has gained the nation’s approval for his democratic policies, there is no question Myanmar is making quick strikes transforming itself into a democratic state. I hope that the birth of the white elephant marks the country’s political rebirth.

*Regrettably, the new capital is not yet open to foreign tourists.


Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 09:00 | URL | comment(0)
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