Wild Elephant Poached in Myanmar's Largest National Park

By Lawi Weng 15 May 2020

Local authorities found a wild elephant poached and disemboweled with its tusks cut off in Alaungdaw Kathapa National Park in Sagaing Region, Myanmar’s largest and oldest wildlife sanctuary.

The park covers over 160,500 hectares of intact tropical forests and wildlife habitats. It is a proposed UNESCO World Heritage Site for both its natural and cultural value, as it is the only national park in Myanmar with a Buddhist religious heritage site within the park. It’s also one of Myanmar’s most popular ecotourism sites.

U Tun Tun Win, a lawmaker from Kani Township, which is part of the sanctuary, said a villager found the body of the elephant in the jungle on Wednesday and called him.

The lawmaker said he then called the Forest Department in the town and made the trip to the jungle along with other authorities to look into the death of the elephant.

“When we arrived there, we found that it was a wild elephant from the national park,” he said, adding that the elephant was shot four times, including in the head, and had been dead for nearly two weeks.

The authorities from the Forest Department estimated that the elephant was 20 years old, 3.4 m long and 3 m tall.

Authorities found the elephant beside a river and said that a poacher likely shot and killed the elephant as it came to drink water.

“They cut the tusks and took them away. They even cut the toenails from all four legs. They disemboweled the elephant too,” U Tun Tun Win said.

Authorities from Alaungdaw Kathapa have opened a case over the poaching and are actively searching for the hunter, according to Police Major Ko Ko Aung in Kani Town. Authorities opened the case under Section 41 (a) of the 2018 Conservation of Biodiversity and Protected Areas Law and the violator faces up to three years in prison.

Regarding the investigation, Police Maj. U Ko Ko Aung said, “Our police were investigating villages in the areas near where the elephant was killed.”

This is the first time an elephant has been poached in the area in two decades, according to U Tun Tun Win. He said it is the first time he has seen a poached elephant.

Cases of wild elephant poaching occur most often in Ayeyarwady Region, where the regional Forest Department reported that poachers killed a total of 115 elephants over the four years from 2014 to 2017.

In 2018, poachers killed eight elephants in Ayeyarwady Region, a 50 percent decline from 16 in 2017, primarily thanks to collaborative efforts between local authorities, police, civilians and civil society organizations engaged in the conservation of elephants.

In the past, elephants were mainly poached for their tusks but over the past few years they have increasingly been poached for their hides, which are believed to have medicinal properties. Demand for elephant hides has increased and, as with the tusks, the hides are mostly smuggled to China.

Myanmar’s elephant population is now estimated to be between 1,600 and 2,000, a drastic decline from the estimated population of 10,000 in the 1940s, according to the Forest Department. Poaching is the primary driver of this continuing decline.

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