Poachers are skinning elephants in Burma due to Chinese demand for skin
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Poachers are skinning elephants in Burma due to Chinese demand for skin

CHINESE demand for products made from elephant skin has led to a marked increase in poaching in Burma (Myanmar) and a rise in elephant carcasses with large strips of skin missing but the rest of the body intact, a UK-based conservation said Tuesday.

The report from group Elephant Family found that since 2014, the trade in Asian elephant skin has expanded from small-scale use to wholesale commercial trade as traffickers stimulate demand.

Initially, powdered elephant skin was sold as a traditional medicine ingredient. But a new trend has recently emerged in which dried elephant skin is carved and polished into prayer beads and other collectibles, with traders extolling the qualities of the blood-red hue in the translucent subcutaneous layers, the report said.

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The report describes videos posted on marketing sites that show images of traders in Burma and Laos carving up chunks of elephant skin, removing coarse hair with blow-torches and drying it in ovens before grinding it into a fine powder.

It has now reached the level that powdered elephant skin is advertised online, directed mainly at exclusive buyers in mainland China.

The group was concerned to discover that Chinese pharmaceutical companies are advertising the sale of medicine that contains Asian elephant skin derivatives, and that China’s State Forestry Administration has apparently issued licenses for these products.

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China implemented a complete ban on ivory sales that went into effect at the end of last year. To find they are creating an alternative, legal demand for elephant skin would be “troubling and perverse,” the report said.

Researchers said the threat is currently greatest in Burma, but warn that the Asian elephant could become extinct in half the areas where it ranges if the problem escalates. It says the threat exceeds that from the ivory trade because poachers are targeting any elephant, not just those with tusks.