Trade in traditional medicine threatens Myanmar's elephants

IANS . Yangon | Update:

elephantTrade in elephant skin for use in traditional medicine has increased in Myanmar, alarming conservationists and authorities who have monitored the species' decline.

Hand-sized coarse pieces of elephant skin are available for sale in major markets in the country, and are sought by clients for their medicinal properties as per local beliefs.

"We have always seen elephant skin for sale. The problem is not new, but yes, the demand is growing," Chris Shepherd, the Southeast Asia director of wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC, told Efe news.

Shepherd said the network had found elephant skin in areas as diverse as the Mongla region in eastern Myanmar, bordering China, and the famous "Golden Rock" in the south.

"The main destination is China, in places such as Mongla Chinese currency is used, Chinese is spoken and the clients too are from that country. However, there is also local consumption," he explained.

Laminated strips of elephant hide can be found along with other valued parts of the animal, such as tusks and hooves, and different birds, felines, primates and reptiles.

The government and conservationists are not in agreement on the number of elephants killed by traffickers.

While the authorities say that at least around a dozen pachyderms were killed last year, nonprofits claim the number is more than 50 and report an increase in hunting in 2017.

Elephant skin costs around 150,000 Myanmar kyat ($110) for a kg, and is used in traditional medicine to cure eczema and other skin problems, and as an ingredient to make ointments for bleaching treatments.

In January, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation approved a 10-year plan with the aim of boosting the protection and conservation of elephants.

According to unofficial figures, there are between 1,400 and 2,000 wild elephants and some 6,000 in captivity in Myanmar.

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