Skin for Sale: An Update on the Trade in Asian Elephant Skin

12 August, 2019

It is also imperative to remember the realities of the world in which elephants live. The deadly trade in ivory has slaughtered elephant populations throughout their range and, in the forests of Myanmar and physical and online markets of Southeast Asia, an even more destructive trade is expanding – the illicit trafficking of elephant skin for jewellery and traditional medicine.

In 2018, UK-based conservation charity Elephant Family published a report on its undercover investigation into the illegal trafficking of elephant skin. Today, Elephant Family is releasing a new report following a further eighteen months of tracking this illicit activity as it continues to expand and shift strategies and locales, including in response to enforcement measures.

Since Elephant Family began investigating the skin trade in 2016, hundreds of elephants, including some from captive populations and even an entire wild herd of 25 adults and calves, have been found skinned. Worse, this illegal poaching is indiscriminate because it targets any elephant, including tuskless females and calves that are normally spared by ivory poachers. Illegal trafficking of elephant skin, their body parts and derivative products like jewellery and traditional medicine has expanded geographically and online – even despite enforcement efforts at some border checkpoints and in some markets and stores in China and elsewhere.

Elephant Family also uncovered another disturbing development in this illicit market – elephant skin powder is now being mixed with pangolin scale powder as a medicine touted for stomach ailments. Considered the most trafficked mammal in the world, pangolins are also Endangered, Critically Endangered and Vulnerable to extinction and this combined mixture is a disturbing convergence of trafficking in protected and endangered species.

According to the most recent official estimates in 2017, there were only 45,697-48,534 Asian elephants remaining in the wild. Their survival depends on collaboration between range states, other countries with illicit trade, and the international conservation community. But policy is meaningless without implementation and enforcement. If elephant skin trafficking escalates to levels found in the ivory trade, the Asian elephant population may not recover and could suffer extinction in much of its range.

From 17 to 28 August 2019, the *CITES Conference of the Parties (CoP18) will take place in Geneva. Elephant Family will be actively participating in the Conference, meeting with and lobbying key representatives, releasing its report, and tackling the trade in live elephants, their parts and derivatives. The Elephant Family charity will be working diligently to ensure that the overlooked Asian elephant and its critical habitats are priorities for protection throughout its range.

To read the full report and for high-resolution images, see: here

*CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) is an international agreement among 183 nations. Its aim is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.

For more information or images please contact

Venetia Higgins or Megan Stannard

Tel: +44 (0) 207 251 5099



Elephant Family is an international NGO dedicated to protecting the Asian elephant from extinction in the wild. In the last fifty years the Asian elephant population has roughly halved and 90% of their habitat has disappeared. Poaching, a growing skin trade, and demand for wild-caught subadults and calves for tourism remain a constant threat along with the deadly and escalating conflict between people and elephants for living space and food. Elephant Family funds pioneering projects across Asia to reconnect forest fragments, prevent conflict, and fight wildlife crime. Since 2002, Elephant Family has funded over 200 conservation projects and raised more than £15m through public awareness events for this beautiful, iconic and endangered animal.

For the full Skin for Sale Report go to Elephant Family’s investigative reports website:




Asian elephants are found across 13 range states and number 45,697-48,534 in the wild. It is legally classified as Endangered across its range, with Critically Endangered subpopulations and subspecies. The largest population of wild Asian elephants, ca. 29,391 individuals, occupies fragmented pockets of habitat in the southwest, north, and northeast of India; the smallest population of ca.104 elephants inhabits fragmented forests in Vietnam. Smaller than their African cousins, only adult males have tusks and few large tusked individuals remain. Female calves tend to stay with the herd while males disperse at around 9-12 years old.  Pregnant for 22 months, breeding females have one calf every 2-4 years. As one of the slowest breeding species on Earth, losing breeding females and calves expedites extinction.

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