An emerging black market for elephant skins is putting new pressure on elephant populations in Myanmar. Poaching has long been a problem in the country. But in the past, ivory was the draw and males the primary target. (Among Asian elephants, only the males grow prominent tusks.) Now, with skins a coveted commodity, females and calves are falling victim, as well. Myanmar’s government has indicated that demand for skin and body parts for use in traditional medicine has spurred a tenfold increase in poaching in recent years.
Asian elephants are endangered, and commercial trade in the animals is prohibited under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Myanmar is home to approximately 1,400-2,000 wild elephants—second only to India. Perhaps 5,000-6,000 more live in captivity, many traditionally used as “timber elephants” to transport felled trees out of difficult terrain.
Local and national nonprofit organizations have been working to train and equip ranger squads to combat this new poaching epidemic and are calling for greater international efforts to crack down on the markets—especially along the Myanmar-China border—where elephant skin is sold.