A new investigative report turns the spotlight onto the escalating trade in Asian elephant skin

24 April, 2018

New evidence gathered in Myanmar and China by the UK-based conservation charity Elephant Family, has revealed an alarming escalation in the illegal trade in Asian elephant skin. The new report – ‘Skinned – The Growing Appetite for Asian Elephants’ – exposes the rise in poaching to feed a developing form of transnational wildlife crime, and those who are trading, promoting and profiting from elephant skin products. Following the trade chain from the forests of Myanmar into China, the report highlights worrying evidence indicating that skin products are being licensed for pharmaceutical use.

With an eye-witness report from the elephant ‘killing fields’ in Myanmar, and a unique profile of an elephant skin trader within China, the report provides a startling and comprehensive overview of this emerging, illegal wildlife trade.

“Asia’s elephant populations are becoming increasingly fragmented and fragile. A trade that targets any elephant, of any age, could spell disaster for this endangered, slow breeding species,” says Elephant Family’s Director of Conservation, Belinda Stewart-Cox, OBE. The first to investigate the elephant skin trade chain, Elephant Family has been studying the trafficking in Asian elephants since 2014 through research, analysis and field investigations.

“Initially monitoring live trade, we were alarmed to discover a marked increase in poaching in Myanmar. We also saw an increasing number of images of elephant carcasses found with strips of skin missing and, more recently, carcasses that had been entirely and surgically skinned,” adds Stewart-Cox.

Driven by concern for the welfare of Asia’s wild elephants the charity’s investigators began researching the illicit trade in elephant skin products both online and in physical markets and, in 2016, exposed the crime to the international conservation community at the 17th meeting of the Conference of Parties to CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) in Johannesburg, South Africa. While some of the recommendations from that report were adopted, ivory trade continues to dominate discussions on elephants and little has been done to address the emerging elephant skin trade.

The skin is used for two main purposes. One: dried and ground into powder as an ingredient for traditional medicine products that claim to cure stomach ailments or, mixed with elephant fat, to form a cream to treat skin infections. Two: the subcutaneous layers are dried and shaped into beads for bracelets and necklaces for traditional wenwan jewellery. Rectangular pieces of polished skin were also seen being sold as pendants.

“We are now seeing an increase in the illicit online advertising for sale of powdered elephant skin. The main source, at present, is from Myanmar where officials have identified a poaching crisis that has developed rapidly since 2010.  Our research shows that urgent action is required to address this growing trend before it develops into yet another wildlife crisis,” adds Stewart-Cox.

“With this report our intention is not to apportion blame but to turn the spotlight onto the escalation of this transnational crime and to call for the collaboration of governments, civil society and the wider public to tackle the issue before it threatens the survival of Asia’s elephants.”

Click here for the Elephant Family Skin Report 2018

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Please contact Vicky Flynn – Head of Communications, Elephant Family

E: info@elephant-family.org
T: +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 their population has roughly halved and 90% of their habitat has disappeared. Poaching, a growing skin trade, and demand for wild-caught babies 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 200 conservation projects and raised over £15m through public art events for this iconic yet endangered animal.



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