Myanmar loses an average of one wild elephant per week to poachers and skinners, threatening the country’s elephant population with extinction within a few years, officials from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation (MONREC) said at a press conference on Wednesday.
According to local conservationist groups, 30 wild elephants were killed in Myanmar in the first eight months of 2017, up from 18 throughout the entirety of 2016.
To stem the rise in elephant killings, MONREC has partnered with a coalition of six conservation groups, which have joined together to form the umbrella organization Voices for Momos. The coalition takes its name from Mo Mo – a 64-year-old elephant who lives at the Yangon Zoological Garden.
Voices for Momos aims to promote MONREC’s Myanmar Elephant Conservation Action Plan (MECAP) and drive awareness and education in an effort to curb illegal wildlife sales in Myanmar.
MONREC minister Ohn Win said on Wednesday: “The Myanmar Elephant Conservation Action Plan has been developed and designed to reverse the decline in the wild elephant population and to secure their future for the next generation of Myanmar people. We welcome the partnership with Voices for Momos and look forward to working together in putting an end to elephant poaching and illegal wildlife trading.”
The coalition’s members are the Biodiversity and Nature Conservation Association, Fauna & Flora International, Friends of Wildlife, Grow Back for Posterity, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and the World Wildlife Fund.
“Myanmar’s wild elephants will be wiped out unless we take action now. We are calling upon individuals and organizations across all sectors to join Voices for Momos and use their voice to speak up before our wild elephants are silenced forever,” said Nay Myo Shwe, a conservation program coordinator for Fauna & Flora International.
Rising demand for elephant body parts, including skin, has Myanmar into a poaching hotspot. Elephants that are hunted for their skin are often shot with poison darts or rifles and die a prolonged and painful death before being skinned, conservationists said at the press conference. The skin, teeth, tusks, and other parts are sold both in Myanmar and abroad.
While elephant skin has been illegally traded for years, demand has driven poaching for elephant skin to unprecedented levels.
In August, an elephant poacher was shot by law enforcement authorities while curing elephant skin in a forest in Ayeyawady Region.
Official estimates put Myanmar’s wild elephant population at between 1,400 to 2,000.