Conservation project comes just in time for Myanmar elephants

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  • With yesterday’s launching of the 10-year project for conservation of Myanmar elephants, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation has taken another important step to protect and conserve wildlife and to prevent conflicts between wild elephants and humans.
    The project includes four tasks: to conserve and protect wild elephants and their habitat, to solve the conflicts between humans and elephants, to prevent and crack down on the smuggling of elephant parts, and to manage the keeping of elephants as pets.
    This project came about after previous biodiversity conservation projects were reviewed and modernized by experts.
    Myanmar has the second-largest number of domesticated elephants in the world after India. Currently, Myanmar has an estimated 2,500 wild elephants in her rainforests.
    Myanmar has 4,748 registered elephants that are kept as pets, used for timber extraction and other heavy lifting and at tourism sites for elephant rides.
    At least one wild elephant is killed per week by poachers who skin the animals and sell the parts, according to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation. If this were allowed to continue, experts say, Myanmar could lose its wild elephant population in a matter of years.
    A high demand for elephant body parts including skin has turned the country into a poaching hotspot.
    Elephants are typically shot with poisoned darts or high-velocity rifles, and die a prolonged and painful death before being skinned, environmental officials said. Their skin, teeth, tusks and other parts are sold locally and overseas.
    Elephant skin has long been part of the illegal wildlife trade, but never at such high levels, conservation experts said.
    In 2016, 18 wild elephants were killed, according to the ministry, but by August, NGOs working in the field put the figure of poached and skinned elephants at least 30, an average of one killing per week. Official estimates put the wild elephant population in Myanmar at 1,400 to 2,000, but the actual figure could be far lower.
    Myanmar signed the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to protect Myanmar wild elephants and has passed laws against poaching.
    The Myanmar government has also constructed wild elephant reserves to protect the elephants against hunters and has plans for several more in the near future, including Hukaung Valley Elephant Reserve, Alaungdaw Kathapa Elephant Reserve, Shwe U Daung Elephant Reserve, Myauk Zar Mayee Elephant Reserve, Rakhine Wildlife Reserve, and Rakhine Yoma Reserve.
    Nationally, Myanmar has set aside 9,205 square miles for elephant sanctuaries. Local and international non-governmental organizations are also planning to expand the amount of land dedicated to wildlife reserves in Myanmar
    Myanmar’s wild elephants will be wiped out unless we take action now. We would like to call on individuals and organizations across all sectors to speak up and take urgent action before our wild elephants are silenced forever.
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