Myanmar elephant killings decline after years on the rise

An elephant enslaved by the KNLA regiment at Kyaung Ma Hmu in Nov. 2017. Photo: Jacob Goldberg

Killings of wild elephants in Myanmar dropped this year for the first time in at least four years, thanks to cooperative conservation efforts carried out by government departments, conservation groups, and people living near elephant habitats.

Most of Myanmar’s wild elephant killings are carried out by poachers looking for tusks and skin to sell in China. Government records place the number of slain elephants since 2014 at 115: seven in 2014, 20 in 2015, 18 in 2016, 59 in 2017, and 11 this year between January and May.

Combined with 53 natural elephant deaths, Myanmar has lost 168 wild elephants total since 2014 – an average of 40 each year.

Ayeyawady Region is the epicenter of Myanmar’s poaching industry, with 59 elephants killed since 2011.

This year’s drop in deaths has been attributed to a number of schemes launched by the government in collaboration with conservation organizations. In January, the Forestry Department began offering rewards of K3 million to people who pass information to authorities that leads to poachers’ arrests. Officials in Ayeyawady Region’s Ngapudaw Township say this has helped bring killings down in the area.

Patrols by police, Forestry Department staff, local administrators, and conservation professionals, plus education campaigns in local communities, have also helped suppress elephant poaching.

Last year, Myanmar’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation launched a 10-year Elephant Conservation Action Plan in partnership with Voices for Momos – an umbrella organization of conservation groups. At the time, it was estimated that Myanmar lost one wild elephant to poachers every week.

Official estimates put Myanmar’s wild elephant population at between 1,400 to 2,000.

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