The Irrawaddy

Chinese Demand Fueling Spike in Elephant Poaching

NAYPYITAW — The Forestry Department has blamed growing demand from China for a surge in elephant poaching in Myanmar.

“Elephant poaching has increased rapidly because of increasing demand from a neighboring country for both consumption and medical use,” said Forestry Department deputy director-general U Kyaw Kyaw Lwin as he answered questions at a press conference at the Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry in Naypyitaw on Thursday.

Such references by Myanmar officials to a “neighboring country” in the context of the illegal wildlife trade are commonly understood to refer to China.

He added that while in the past elephants were mainly poached for their tusks, demand for flesh, trunks, and hide had increased.

The number of poached elephants has risen steadily since 2014. While only four were poached in 2014, the number increased to 20 in 2015 and 18 in 2016, before jumping to 46 in 2017, according to Forestry Department records.

Meanwhile, more than 50 elephants died of natural causes over the past four years.

“If we are losing an elephant every week, including those that die of natural causes, the population of wild elephants could drop significantly in the next 20 to 30 years,” U Kyaw Kyaw Lwin said.

Irrawaddy, Bago and Yangon regions have become poaching hot spots, but the Forestry Department has only around 300 staff members assigned to combat the illegal trade, and therefore has to rely on cooperation from local authorities and residents, he said.

Police brought 56 poachers to trial last year, and have arrested six this year.

In January, the department launched an initiative offering rewards of 3 million kyats each to those providing authorities with information leading to the arrest of elephant poachers. In March, the department awarded the sum to a villager in Irrawaddy Region after forestry police were able to arrest a poacher thanks to a tip from him.

In mid-February, the government launched the Myanmar Elephant Conservation Action Plan (MECAP), a 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 with support from international and local organizations.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.