Scientists at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) have found that poaching is an emerging crisis for Asian elephants in Myanmar, according to a report on the nationalzoo.si.edu website. They published their findings on March 13.
Researchers first became aware of the crisis while conducting an unrelated telemetry study in which they fitted 19 Asian elephants with satellite GPS collars to better understand elephant movements and reduce human-elephant conflict. Seven of those 19 elephants were poached within a year of being fitted with the collars. The findings suggest that human-elephant conflict, which was thought to be the biggest threat to Myanmar’s wild elephants, may be secondary to poaching. And conservation efforts to help the 1,400 to 2,000 wild elephants in Myanmar should prioritize anti-poaching efforts.
Observations and discoveries from SCBI’s partners on the ground in Myanmar found further evidence of large-scale poaching. In less than two years, they confirmed that at least 19 elephants, including the seven with satellite GPS collars, were poached. And systematic surveys showed an additional 40 poached elephants were found across the southern central region of the country.
“SCBI has been studying elephants in Myanmar for decades, but this is the first time we have seen poaching of this scale in the country,” Peter Leimgruber, head of the Conservation Ecology Center at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute said. “The next steps for us will be to continue to track and monitor elephants, while working with our partners and local communities to help stop poaching.”
Unlike African elephants, Myanmar’s elephants are being targeted by poachers for their skin instead of ivory. In Asian elephants, only males have tusks, which can vary in size.
Reports from the government of Myanmar show that poaching is on the rise in the country. During 2016, 25 elephants were poached. In the preceding five years, 61 elephants had been poached. Myanmar is one of the last remaining countries in Asia with large habitats capable of supporting elephant populations.