NAYPYITAW — The government is planning to open wild elephant protection camps in three regions where the pachyderms are most at risk from poachers, Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation Minister U Ohn Win told a session of Parliament on Friday.
“We are planning to make camps where police, local administration officers and staff from the Forestry Department can stay and watch for poachers, hunt down the poachers and protect the wild elephants,” he said, responding to questions about the plan from lawmakers.
The minister said the camps will be in Yangon, Bago and Irrawaddy regions, where the numbers of poached wild elephants are highest.
U Ohn Win said wild elephants were on Myanmar’s list of protected species and that the government was collaborating with local and international organizations to save them. He said government officials were also working with the police on ways to take tougher legal action against poachers and those who trade in wild elephant parts.
The number of poached elephants more than doubled from 18 to 46 from 2016 to 2017, according to the Forestry Department. It says 14 wild elephants were poached between January and July this year.
Lawmakers noted that poachers were killing the elephants not only for their tusks, but for their meat and skin as well, and smuggling the parts to neighboring countries.
“At least one wild elephant is poached a week. The number of wild elephants has declined from over 10,000 to under 2,000. It is necessary to hunt down elephant poachers with joint forces,” said lawmaker U Than Aung Soe, who represents Magwe Region’s Minhla Township.
According to the Natural Resources Ministry, 56 poachers were arrested from 2010 to 2017 and prosecuted under the Protection of Wildlife and Conservation of Natural Areas Law.
In May, the Protection of Biodiversity and Conservation Areas Law was also enacted, which stipulates jail terms of at least three years for poachers and smugglers and up to 10 years in cases involving wild elephants.
U Ohn Win also noted that infrastructure projects such as roads and dams were increasingly encroaching on elephant habitat and bringing the animals increasingly into contact — and conflict — with people.
Confrontations between wild elephants and local residents killed six people in 2016, nine in 2017, and two this year through June.
The natural resources minister said the Forestry Department was educating people in areas where there are elephants on ways to stay safe. He said the ministry was collaborating with the US-based Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute on a project to place radio transmission collars on a total of 28 elephants in Yangon, Bago, Irrawaddy and Tanintharyi regions.
The Forestry Department is also partnering with the Wildlife Conservation Society, another US-based organization, on a project running from 2018 to 2027 that aims to double the average life of Myanmar’s elephants to about 100 years.
Translated from Burmese by Zarni Mann.