Suspected poacher shot while curing elephant skin in Myanmar forest

The skinned carcass of an elephant discovered near the spot where poachers were found curing elephant skin in August 2017. Photo: MOI
The skinned carcass of an elephant discovered near the spot where poachers were found curing elephant skin in August 2017. Photo: MOI

A suspected elephant poacher was shot by a member of an anti-poaching unit in Thabaung Township, Ayeyawady Region, on Sunday after he and two other suspects were discovered in the vicinity of a skinned elephant carcass. The wounded suspect was arrested before being taken to the Pathein General Hospital. The other suspects escaped and remain on the run.

The anti-poaching unit included Forest Rangers, township police, and members of the Thaephyu Sentry Police and Thaephyu People’s Militia, according to the Ministry of Information.

During a routine patrol, the team discovered an elephant carcass that had been stripped of its skin, tusks, and tail. Later that evening, they encountered three men in the surrounding forest who were curing elephant skin.

As the team approached, at least one of the suspected poachers aimed a gun at the law enforcement officers. Lance Corporal Maw Maw, a Forest Ranger, shot at the suspect, hitting 55-year-old Cho Tin on his right thigh.

Police Captain Myo Lwin, who led the anti-poaching unit, told Eleven: “We’ve heard about elephant poachers in this area. After spotting a slaughtered elephant, we continued looking for suspects and found them in the middle of the forest. One suspect was aiming his gun at us, so we had to shoot him. The wound was not critical.”

Weapons and elephant parts
Weapons and elephant parts found in the poachers’ possession. Photo: MOI

Two handmade firearms, four elephant tusks, chunks of elephant hide and flesh, a box of gunpowder, a three-inch steel arrowhead, two 15-inch knives, an elephant’s tail, and an NRC card belonging to a man named “Salai Aung Nay Oo” were recovered from the scene.

Soe Tint, head of the Thabaung Township forestry department, said: “The dead elephant we found was huge. So I assume the poachers are working in large numbers.”

Cho Tin will face charges for illegal hunting and arms possession. The anti-poaching unit is now on the hunt for the other two suspects, and parallel anti-poaching operations are being carried out throughout Ayeyawady Region.

In addition to being hunted for their ivory, Myanmar’s wild elephants have been targeted for their skin, which is sold as a traditional medicine, most infamously at the base of the Kyaiktiyio Pagoda in Mon State.

Elephant skin can sell for up to K5,000 (US$3.65) per square inch.

Myanmar’s wild elephant population is thought to have almost halved over the past decade to between 2,000 and 3,000, though some estimates put the number far lower.

At least 30 wild elephants have been killed in Myanmar this year alone.

In a press release issued in commemoration of World Elephant Day on August 12, Fauna and Flora International field coordinator Nay Myo Shwe said: “Poachers kill female and baby elephants for their skin. Myanmar’s elephants face extinction if it continues.”

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