PATHEIN, Irrawaddy Region — More than 100 wild elephants were poached in forest reserves across the country over the past four years, according to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation’s Forest Department.
U Pyae Phyo Aung, head of the Forest Department in Irrawaddy Region’s Ngapudaw Township, said poachers killed a total 115 of the pachyderms over the period: seven in 2014, 20 in 2015, 18 in 2016, 59 in 2017, and 11 from January through May.
“Elephant poaching was highest last year, but it has declined this year,” he told The Irrawaddy.
He added that 53 elephant died of natural causes from 2014 to May.
Combined, Myanmar lost 168 wild elephants over the period, an average of about 40 per year.
In the past, elephants were mainly poached for their tusks. But over the past few years, they are also increasingly targeted for their hide, which, like the tusks, is mostly smuggled to China.
Most of the poaching takes place in Irrawaddy Region. Local police said 59 elephants were poached in the region between 2011 and May 2018.
But elephant poaching in Irrawaddy Region has significantly declined this year thanks to cooperation from locals, said Ko Sai Zaw Oo of Friends of Wildlife (FOW), which is partnering with the World Wildlife Fund on elephant conservation efforts.
In January, the Forest Department launched an initiative offering rewards of 3 million kyats ($2,046) to anyone who provides authorities with information leading to the arrest of elephant poachers.
“Last year we were able to arrest a poaching ring due to a tip from a local resident in Ngapudaw. We awarded him 3 million kyats. And we conduct regular patrols with forestry police and departmental officials, and elephant poaching has declined in the region,” Ko Sai Zaw Oo told The Irrawaddy.
Combined teams comprising local police, forestry police, forest department staff, village administrators, elephant veterinarians and non-governmental organization officials conduct regular patrols across forest reserves in Irrawaddy and also educate locals about the dangers and damage of poaching.
In February, the government launched the Myanmar Elephant Conservation Action Plan, a strategy for the next 10 years (2018–2027) aimed at securing viable and ecologically functional elephant populations in Myanmar for the next century and beyond with support from international and local organizations.
Myanmar’s elephant population is now estimated at between 1,400 and 2,000, a drastic decline from about 10,000 in the 1940s, according to the Forest Department.
Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.