Raids reveal Myanmar poachers’ indiscriminate bloodthirst

Animal products seized during the raids on June 9, 2018. Photo: Myanmar Police Force

A series of targeted raids by Forestry Department agents on Tuesday ended with the arrest of six poachers Mandalay, Ayeyawady, and Bago regions and the seizure of a vast array of wildlife products. The diversity of the haul offered a glimpse into the voracious bloodthirst of Myanmar poachers and their customers.

Among the seized items were elephant hides, antlers of numerous deer species, bison horns, turtle shells and flesh, porcupine quills, bear bones, claws, and paws, and skulls of a variety of wild animals.

“Due to the market demands of neighboring countries, there are many people storing and trading these [wildlife parts],” Ayeyawady Region Forestry Department director Khin Maung Myint, told the Myanmar Times. He explained that one facility that was raided in his jurisdiction was used for making decorative hangings, jewelry and accessories, and traditional medicines out of animal skins and other parts.

The six suspects have been charged under Myanmar’s Protection of Wildlife and Protected Areas Law, which carries a prison sentence of up to five years for the killing or wounding of a protected animal.

Research from the last year has showed a spike in elephant killings as demand for elephant skin has risen across the region. Whereas ecological damage from the ivory trade has been limited by regulations in China and by its specific targeting of elephants with tusks, elephant skin hunters are indiscriminate in their killings, and skin products, which often lose their resemblance to natural elephant skin after they are processed, are more difficult to detect.

Myanmar’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation reported last year that poachers in Myanmar kill one elephant every week. If the killing continues at the same rate, the country’s elephant population could be extinct within a few years.

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