Important victory for Asia’s elephants paves the way for increased protection

Press Release – 3 October 2018

Governments today expressed overwhelming support to strengthen international laws that will help protect endangered Asian elephants.

The move comes following undercover investigation work carried out by UK charity Elephant Family that exposed an emerging illegal trade in Asian elephant skin. Alarmed by the discovery of skinned elephant carcasses in Myanmar, Elephant Family found that the skin is being turned into beads for jewellery and powder to treat medical conditions and sold online through Chinese language forums. The sharing of their findings today helped secure a much needed strengthening of the laws that protect Asia’s endangered elephants.

Working together, Born Free Foundation and Elephant Family informed delegates at a meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES*) in Sochi, Russia of the skin trade and pushed for more urgent attention to tackle the trafficking.

Representatives of two Asian elephant range states – Sri Lanka and Thailand – expressed concern over the emerging threat.

Speaking for Sri Lanka, which will host the CITES Conference of Parties in 2019, Mr Ranjan Marasinghe, Head of Enforcement of the Department of Wildlife Conservation said, “As a range state we are aware of the multiple threats faced by Asian elephants and are concerned that the skin issue will expand to all range states if not stopped.”

The European Union and United States gained approval for amendments to existing text which include a requirement for investigations into illegal trade and improved reporting on implementation.

“This is a big step forwards for Asian elephants, since the discussion at CITES is often dominated by African elephant ivory trade,” said Elephant Family’s Conservation Programme Manager Caitlin Melidonis. “Our investigations helped shape the outcome of this important meeting but there is more to be done. Our job now is to ensure that the decisions outlined on paper translate to protection in the field.”

Speaking on behalf of Born Free Foundation, Gabriel Fava, said “These important developments must lead to better cooperation and coordination across range States and help to identify gaps in capacity. We look forward to supporting countries to address those needs and ensure a sustained enforcement response against illegal trade”.

Justin Gosling, a law enforcement specialist working with Elephant Family urged caution over the result: “Trade in Asian elephants has been prohibited under CITES for over 40 years, but poaching and trafficking continues and is expanding. Countries implicated in this trade now need to make concerted efforts to investigate the criminal networks and take action to prevent further poaching and trade.”

Next week, Heads of State from around the world will meet at the Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference in London. Elephant Family will be there to continue to garner further support for Asian elephants.

Elephant Family’s investigations into the illegal skin trade helped create a strong case for support today at CITES

*CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) is an international agreement between governments. 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
Vicky Flynn – Head of Communications, Elephant Family

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 over 180 conservation projects and raised over £15m through public art events for this iconic yet endangered animal.
Elephant Family investigative reports website:


Born Free’s mission is to ensure that all wild animals, whether living in captivity or in the wild, are treated with compassion and respect and are able to live their lives according to their needs. Born Free opposes the exploitation of wild animals in captivity and campaigns to keep wildlife in the wild.

Born Free promotes Compassionate Conservation to enhance the survival of threatened species in the wild and protect natural habitats while respecting the needs of and safeguarding the welfare of individual animals. Born Free seeks to have a positive impact on animals in the wild and protect their ecosystems in perpetuity, for their own intrinsic value and for the critical roles they play within the natural world.


Asian elephants are found across 13 range states and number c. 46,282. The largest population of wild elephants, c27,312,  live in fragmented pockets in the south west, north and north east of India, the smallest population of c.118 live in Vietnam.

Pregnant for 22 months – breeding females have one calf every 2 to 4 years. As a slow breeding species losing breeding females and calves is a sure fire route to extinction. Female calves tend to stay with the herd while males disperse at between 9-12 years old.

Smaller than their African cousins only adult males carry tusks, few big tuskers remain.

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