YANGON — Amid a rise in illegal poaching of wild elephants in Myanmar, the government last week launched an action plan to protect the animals, supported by international and local organizations.
The Myanmar Elephant Conservation Action Plan (MECAP) lays out a focused elephant conservation strategy for the next 10 years (2018–27) with the overall aim of securing viable and ecologically functional elephant populations in Myanmar for the next century and beyond.
MECAP, led by the Forest Department under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation (MONREC), was developed in collaboration with eight government departments and agencies, including the Myanmar Timber Enterprise, the largest owner of elephants in the country.
The development process was supported by international and local experts and organizations including the Wildlife Conservation Society, WWF, Fauna & Flora International, the International Elephant Foundation, Elephant Family, Friends of Wildlife, and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute.
According to a press release, the action plan is focused on the protection of the country’s wild elephants and their habitat; mitigation of human and elephant conflict; combating illegal trade in elephants and their body parts; and management of captive elephants and captive-wild elephant interactions.
The action plan’s launch comes at a time when wild elephants have been pushed to the brink of extinction by poaching to fuel the trade in the animals’ body parts, especially in China.
The issue was raised in Parliament on Wednesday by National League for Democracy lawmaker Naw Susana Hla Hla Soe, who urged the government to take serious action against elephant poaching, particularly for the purpose of supplying materials for elephant skin beads in China.
“Their skin and other body parts are in high demand so that elephants are … targeted,” she said.
The lawmaker said male elephants are targeted for their ivory, while females and calves are now targeted for their skins, adding that there is a danger of Myanmar’s wild elephant population disappearing within a few years.
According to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation, 18 wild elephants were poached in 2016, and 30 were killed last year. The current population is estimated at 1,400-2,000, compared to 10,000 in 1997.
“According to estimates, one of Myanmar’s elephants is killed every week in the wild. If this pace continues, Myanmar will lose its wild elephants within a few years,” said Christy Williams, country director of WWF-Myanmar.
In a foreword to the action plan, U Ohn Winn, MONREC minister, said the government is committed to fully implementing MECAP. “Time for action is short, but we owe it to history and future generations to show that we took responsibility for our elephants and other wildlife through carrying out the actions and recommendations of the MECAP,” he writes.
In support of MECAP and in response to elephant poaching in Myanmar, local and international organizations including WCS, WWF, Friends of Wildlife and SCBI launched an awareness-raising campaign, “Voices for Momos”, in Myanmar in November last year. The campaign is named after a popular 64-year-old elephant in the Yangon Zoo whose name has become virtually synonymous with elephants among Myanmar children. It calls on individuals and organizations to use their voices to speak up for the animals.