Myanmar is home to one of the largest populations of wild Asian elephants, but a new threat is putting them in danger of extinction. Poachers are targeting elephants for their skin, which is turned into jewelry and medicine. Unlike ivory poaching, which mainly affects males, skin poaching does not discriminate between sexes or ages, making every elephant a potential victim.
According to a study by the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI), poaching is an emerging crisis for Asian elephants in Myanmar. The researchers found that seven out of 19 elephants they fitted with satellite GPS collars were killed by poachers within a year. They also confirmed that at least 19 other elephants were poached in the same region, and estimated that 40 more were killed across the southern central part of the country.
“Poaching has suddenly become a much bigger threat to Asian elephants, especially in Myanmar, than we realized,” said Christie Sampson, lead author of the paper and SCBI doctoral fellow. “The biggest difference is that elephants in Myanmar are now being targeted for their skin and meat. That means there is no discrimination between males, females or calves. And that could potentially have dire consequences for elephants, who reproduce very slowly.”
The skin of the elephants is transformed into ruby red beads and sold as jewelry, or ground into powder and sold as medicine. The demand for these products is driven by consumers in China and other Asian countries, where elephant parts are believed to have healing properties.
The SCBI researchers are working with local partners and communities to raise awareness and stop poaching. They are also continuing to track and monitor elephants to better understand their movements and behavior. They hope that by shedding light on this new crisis, they can help save Myanmar’s wild elephants from extinction.
Source: Smithsonian Scientists Find Elephant-poaching Crisis Emerging in Myanmar | Smithsonian’s National Zoo Newsroom