Asian Elephants Face New Threat From Growing Chinese Demand For Skin Products

WWF Helps Break Up Major Ivory Trafficking Network

A UK based conservation group says that growing Chinese demand for elephant skin products is resulting in greater poaching of the protected species. The increased demand poses an even greater threat to the wild elephants of Asia than even the illegal trade in ivory the group claims. The Elephant Family released a report which suggests that the threat to the Asian elephant is most severe in Myanmar and also warned that if conditions continue to worsen, the species could vanish from half the areas they currently inhabit.

All elephants are in danger

The report goes on to add that the threat posed by the trade in elephant skin products is greater than that of the ivory trade because poachers can target any elephant, rather than just those with tusks, which means those living in poorly protected areas are in grave danger. The conservation group says its studies have yielded results which show that elephant skin is ground down into fine particles and then sold in China as a treatment for stomach ache. Elephant skin is also being used in jewellery and other products which are sold both in stores and online.

Trade is taking place online with government blessing

A spokesperson for Elephant Family told journalists in Bangkok that the group began monitoring Asian elephants in 2014 and since then there has been a dramatic increase in advertising campaigns and sales of products. The group was able to identify at least 50 individual Chinese traders through social media. Product information and prices are quoted in Mandarin and apparently even China’s State Forestry Administration has approved permits for products containing elephant skin.

Trying to raise awareness

The group says it was troubled and found it perverse that whilst China has show a commitment towards ending trade in ivory, it was simultaneously creating new and legal demand for elephant skin products. The spokesperson said the group had contacted officials in China and is working with officials in Myanmar to raise the issue. Elephant Family estimates that the current population of wild elephants in Myanmar is approximately 2000.

Illegal elephant poaching is on the rise

Myanmar’s department of forests says that wild elephant deaths have risen over the last few years from 26 in 2013 to 61 in 2016 and according to Elephant Family most of those deaths were caused by illegal poaching. The spokesperson adds that quite a lot of skin can be harvested from a single elephant and if a group of 25 are killed as was the case on one occasion in Myanmar, that is a lot of product. The ivory trade poses less of a problem because on male Asian elephants have tusks. Elephant skin on the other hand can be harvested from males, females and juveniles which means no elephant is safe.

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