The Myanmar Times - - Front Page -

POACH­ING of en­dan­gered Asian ele­phants for their skin is soar­ing in Myan­mar, driven by huge de­mand in China where it is be­ing used for medicine and jew­ellery.

Bri­tish wildlife con­ser­va­tion group Ele­phant Fam­ily warns that the trend poses “a new threat” to their sur­vival as, un­like tusk poach­ing, not only males but also fe­males and ju­ve­niles are be­ing tar­geted.

“Ele­phant skins? Give me 4 hours, and I’ll get you any­thing from the hunters in the jun­gle,” said a shop­keeper at a phar­macy in Kyaikto town­ship of Mon State, when asked about the avail­abil­ity of ele­phant skin.

The Asian ele­phant is listed as “en­dan­gered” on the In­ter­na­tional Union for Con­ser­va­tion of Na­ture’s Red List. Ac­cord­ing to Ele­phant Fam­ily, their num­bers have de­clined by around 90 per­cent in the past 100 years mainly due to tusk poach­ing.

Cur­rently, an es­ti­mated 30,000 to 50,000 Asian ele­phants re­main in the wild of 13 coun­tries in South­east and South Asia such as Myan­mar and Thai­land.

Ele­phant Fam­ily says growth in the Asian ele­phant skin trade was first con­firmed around 2014, when it ex­panded from small-scale sales to whole­sale com­mer­cial trade.

The or­gan­i­sa­tion ear­lier this year re­leased a de­tailed re­port not­ing an alarm­ing es­ca­la­tion in the il­le­gal trade in ele­phant skins.

Among its key find­ings, it said the pri­mary source of Asian ele­phants used in the skin trade now ap­pears to be Myan­mar, where poach­ing in­ci­dents have in­creased dra­mat­i­cally since 2010.

That year, four ele­phant car­casses were found in the wild in Myan­mar, ac­cord­ing to fig­ures pro­vided to the non­govern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tion by Myan­mar’s For­est De­part­ment. In 2013, the num­ber rose to 26, and three years later it more than dou­bled to 61.

The car­casses have been found with the skin on their back peeled off in a rec­tan­gu­lar shape, in­di­cat­ing they were killed specif­i­cally for their skin.

While of­fi­cials in Myan­mar ac­knowl­edge the poach­ing cri­sis, traders have also men­tioned other Asian ele­phant range coun­tries, in­di­cat­ing that the wild pop­u­la­tions be­yond Myan­mar are also at risk.

Many NGOs fear ele­phants in Myan­mar may be hunted to ex­tinc­tion within a mat­ter of years.

Un­der the Con­ven­tion on In­ter­na­tional Trade in En­dan­gered Species, or CITES, all trad­ing of Asian ele­phant in any form is pro­hib­ited.

“Un­doubt­edly, the vast ma­jor­ity of known im­porters, on­line traders, phys­i­cal sales­peo­ple and con­sumers are in China,” the re­port said.

Although China this year banned trade in ivory and ivory prod­ucts, the State Forestry Ad­min­is­tra­tion, which serves as China’s CITES man­age­ment au­thor­ity, has in re­cent years is­sued li­censes for the man­u­fac­ture and sale of phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal prod­ucts con­tain­ing ele­phant skin, ac­cord­ing to the re­port.

The skin is mainly be­ing used for medicines as well as jew­ellery and prayer beads. In the for­mer, it is ground down to pow­der for use as an in­gre­di­ent in tra­di­tional medicine prod­ucts. In the lat­ter, it is dried and shaped into beads for bracelets and neck­laces.

Belinda Ste­wart-Cox, act­ing di­rec­tor of con­ser­va­tion at Ele­phant Fam­ily, says the skin trade is tar­get­ing males, fe­males, ju­ve­niles in­dis­crim­i­nately, “and that means no ele­phant is safe.”

Be­sides phys­i­cal mar­kets in Myan­mar and China, ele­phant skin beads and pow­der are in­creas­ingly be­ing traded through on­line por­tals such as Baidu, China’s largest, as well as so­cial me­dia plat­forms like WeChat, ac­cord­ing to the re­port.

“We are now see­ing an in­crease in the on­line ad­ver­tis­ing of pow­dered ele­phant skin for sale to, ap­par­ently ex­clu­sively, buy­ers in main­land China,” it said.

More­over, Chi­nese phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies were found to be ad­ver­tis­ing the sale of medicine that con­tains Asian ele­phant skin deriva­tives.

The av­er­age price for ele­phant skin pieces in Myan­mar was around 660 yuan (K148,000/US$100) per kilo­gram, with traders there quot­ing prices in the Chi­nese cur­rency.

Ni­cholas Cox, con­ser­va­tion di­rec­tor of the World Wildlife Fund Myan­mar, warns, “If it be­comes dif­fi­cult (to kill ele­phants) in Myan­mar, then they (the poach­ers) will go some­where else.”

Among the rec­om­men­da­tions in its re­port, Ele­phant Fam­ily says CITES should be ex­tended to in­clude all il­le­gal trade in Asian ele­phants, parts and deriva­tives.

It also calls on Myan­mar to de­velop anti-poach­ing strate­gies while ad­vis­ing China to cease all li­cens­ing in ele­phant skin prod­uct man­u­fac­ture, dis­tri­bu­tion and re­tail.

Photo: Sup­plied

An ele­phant that was killed by poach­ers in Myan­mar.

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