PATHEIN, Irrawaddy Region — Police arrested an elephant poacher after an exchange of fire in Irrawaddy Region’s Thabaung Township on Sunday.
A combined force of local police, forestry police, and officials from the forestry department spotted three poachers during a patrol in the forest of Khayin Chaungpya, around 30 miles from Thabaung.
One poacher was arrested and two others got away, according to the Irrawaddy Region Police Force.
“The combined force found a skinned elephant and poachers during their patrol,” police Lt-Col Khin Maung Latt of Irrawaddy Region Police Force told The Irrawaddy.
“One of the poachers shot at police with an improvised firearm, and the combined force returned fire. We arrested him after he was injured in the right thigh.”
The arrested poacher, Cho Lwin, is from a village in Shwethaungyan in Pathein Township and was initially admitted to Thabaung Township Hospital before being transferred to Pathein Hospital on Monday for surgery.
Police also seized four elephant tusks, two improvised firearms, two containers of gunpowder, 11 metal balls, two 15-inch knives, a three-inch arrow, dried elephant hide, grilled elephant meat, a tail and a cell phone.
The skinned and decapitated elephant was 40 years old.
“We found four tusks, so we assume they killed two elephants, though we have yet to investigate,” said the police lieutenant colonel.
Police were chasing the two unarmed poachers that escaped, he said.
Police have charged all three suspects under the Protection of Wildlife and Conservation of Natural Areas Law and for carrying unlicensed firearms.
From January to mid-August, 11 elephants were killed by hunters in Pathein, Ngapudaw and Thabaung townships in the Irrawaddy Region—most of them killed by poisoned arrows, according to the Irrawaddy Region Police Force.
On the occasion of World Elephant Day last week, national and international conservation organizations—including the Wildlife Conservation Society and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)—warned of Myanmar’s declining wild elephant population following a surge in demand for their skin.
“At least 30 wild elephants have been poached so far in 2017 with six elephants killed in the last six weeks. This is far above the previous yearly poaching average for Myanmar,” said Aung Myo Chit, country coordinator of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, according to a joint press release.
The number of wild elephants in Myanmar has plummeted to between 1,400 and 2,000 compared to tens of thousands just decades ago.
Conservation groups are working with the Myanmar government to train rangers, according to the statement. In July alone, 45 rangers were trained.
“Training rangers is the first step on our journey to win this battle against poachers,” said Christy Williams, country director of WWF Myanmar. “Rangers are on the conservation frontlines, protecting the world’s natural and cultural treasures. With their commitment and the help of our supporters, there is hope for Asian elephants.”
On Friday in parliament, Minister for Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation U Ohn Win said his ministry would coordinate with the defense ministry to equip forestry department personnel with arms.
Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.