By RACHANON CHAROONSAK
MANY ELEPHANTS are being hunted for their skin across Asia and the problem is reaching a crisis point, said a report released yesterday by an international NGO that is dedicated to protecting the animals from extinction.
The report exposes the rise in poaching to supply a new kind of transnational wildlife crime, and those who are trading, promoting and profiting from elephant skin products, Belinda Stewart-Cox, the director of conservation for Elephant Family, said.
Chinese online platforms such as Baidu and WeChat have been used to trade elephant skin products, the report revealed.
“We are now seeing an increase in the illicit online advertising for sale of powdered elephant skin. The main source, at present, is Myanmar where officials have identified a poaching crisis that has intensified rapidly since 2010.
“Our research shows that urgent action is required to address this rising trend before it develops into yet another wildlife crisis,” Stewart-Cox said at the event held at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand
Elephant Family is the first organisation to investigate the illegal trade in elephant skin.
China, Laos and Myanmar provide elephant skin for products such as traditional medicines, skincare creams, beads for bracelets, necklaces and pendants.
“We began by monitoring live trade, but then discovered there was a marked increase in poaching in Myanmar. We were shown images of elephant carcasses found with strips of skin missing and, more recently, carcasses that had been entirely surgically skinned,” Stewart-Cox said.
She said the report – Titled “Skinned – The Growing Appetite for Asian Elephants” – was not intended to apportion blame but to turn the spotlight on the growing transnational crime.
“We wish to call for the collaboration of governments and civil society to tackle the issue before it threatens the survival of Asia’s elephants,” she said.
According to her organisation, Asian elephant population has roughly halved during the past 50 years and 90 per cent of their habitat has disappeared.
She added that the general public could help by not purchasing any of these products.
The report states that elephant skin products have been spotted in markets in Mong La, Myanmar, Xishuangbanna, in Yunnan province, China, and Guangzhou, in Guangdong province, China, in January.
The report also said there is worrying evidence that skin products are being licensed for pharmaceutical use.
According to report, documentation showed China’s State Forestry Administration (SFA) had issued licences for the manufacture and sale of pharmaceutical products containing elephant skin. Several Chinese companies had advertised products claiming elephant skin was an ingredient in their products.
“Asia’s elephant populations are increasingly fragmented and many are fragile. A trade that targets any elephant of any age could spell disaster for small, poorly protected populations of this endangered, slow breeding species,” Stewart-Cox said.
Her organisation has estimated that there are now between 30,000 and 50,000 elephants in Asia.