EU Calls on Myanmar to Take Action to Save Shrinking Elephant Population

By The Irrawaddy 28 February 2018

YANGON—The European Union urged the Myanmar government to strengthen efforts to protect its wild elephant population, which is on the brink of extinction due to poaching to supply the illegal trade in ivory and skins, as well as to end the open sale of elephant and other illegal wildlife parts in markets in its major cities, at popular tourist sites and along its borders.

In a statement to mark World Wildlife Day on Saturday, more than two dozen ambassadors of the European Union and its member states warned that Myanmar’s wild elephant population would be wiped out in a matter of years as poaching for tusks and other parts remains a huge challenge globally with Myanmar facing an “unprecedented elephant skinning crisis”.

In recent years, the Myanmar government has been working on strengthening the Biodiversity and Protected Areas Law, establishing more than 40 protected areas for wildlife, developing action plans for elephants and tigers, training and deploying rangers, and instituting wildlife training for government staff about the illegal wildlife trade. The EU and its member states have supported some of these efforts through the provision of technical support and capacity building.

“In particular, we would recommend that the Government of Myanmar ends the open sale of elephant and other illegal wildlife parts, which today are widely sold in markets in Yangon, Mandalay, Kyeikhteeyoe and along Myanmar’s borders,” the statement said.

According to WWF-Myanmar, at least one elephant is killed by hunters in Myanmar every week. Elephant skin, tail hairs, teeth and ivory are sold at tourist sites such as the Golden Rock (Kyaiktiyo Pagoda in Bago Region), while ivory is sold in Yangon and Mandalay. Large markets also operate in the ‘Golden Triangle’ border area Myanmar shares with China, Laos and Thailand.

In such markets, elephant skin is sold dried for traditional ‘medicine’ or polished into beads and sold as lucky charm bracelets. The tail hairs are put into silver rings and worn for luck.

Last month, the WWF-Myanmar met with the trustee members of the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon to hold an awareness program for souvenir shop owners at the pagoda stairways to educate them on the harm done by selling ivory and other wild animal related objects.

The EU statement released on Wednesday added that as long as these markets continue to sell illegal wildlife products, Myanmar’s wildlife will be at risk, and Myanmar’s position as a global and regional illegal wildlife trade hub will continue and grow as other countries in the region close their domestic markets. China shut its domestic ivory market in January this year and Hong Kong has also committed to ban ivory trading.

“Concrete action, such as developing a more robust legal framework in line with global standards — and ensuring its effective enforcement — would send a clear message that Myanmar has a zero-tolerance approach to wildlife crime,” the statement said.

The EU ambassadors also encouraged the government to take action now so that Myanmar can attend the 2018 London Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade in October, not only to renew its commitments to the 2014 London Declaration on the Illegal Wildlife Trade, but also to take up its place as a regional leader in the fight against the illegal wildlife trade.

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.

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 just 1,400-2,000, compared to 10,000 in 1997.