By George Grow
02 May, 2018

A British-based wildlife group says rising Chinese demand for products made from elephant skin is leading to unlawful killing of the animals. It says the rising demand is creating an even greater threat to Asia's wild elephants than the illegal trade for their ivory.

In a report this week, the group Elephant Family said the threat to Asian elephants is greatest in Myanmar, also known as Burma. But it warned that the animals could completely disappear in half of the areas where they now live if conditions worsen.

The report said the threat is greater than that from the ivory trade because hunters are targeting any elephant, and threatening those living in poorly protected areas.

Elephant Family said its studies showed that the animal's skin is ground down into fine particles and sold in China as a cure for stomach pain. It said the skin can also be shaped into beads for use in jewelry.

Elephant-based products are sold in stores, markets and increasingly over the internet. The group reports that some sellers produce videos of workers in Myanmar and Laos cutting up elephant remains to prove the authenticity of their products.

Belinda Stewart-Cox of Elephant Family spoke with reporters in Bangkok. She noted that her group started watching Asian elephants in 2014. Since then, she said, there has been "a major increase of the advertising, advertising campaigns and apparent sales" of the animals.

FILE -- In this Thursday, Oct. 1, 2015 file photo an elephant crosses a road in the Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe's wildlife agency said Thursday, Jan. 5, 2017 it has sold 35 elephants to China to ease overpopulation and raise funds
FILE -- In this Thursday, Oct. 1, 2015 file photo an elephant crosses a road in the Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe's wildlife agency said Thursday, Jan. 5, 2017 it has sold 35 elephants to China to ease overpopulation and raise funds

Researchers identified 50 individual Chinese traders selling through social media. They said product information is written in Chinese, prices are given in Chinese currency and sales completed in Mandarin.

The report also said that China's State Forestry Administration has apparently approved permits for some products that contain elephant skin.

It said "at a time when China has shown commitment to ending its domestic trade in elephant ivory, it would be troubling and perverse to find that, at the same time, it is creating a new, legal demand for elephant skin products."

Stewart-Cox said her organization has reached out to Chinese officials and worked closely with Myanmar officials to raise the issue.

She said, "I think we should pull together on this.There is no time. Myanmar is losing too many elephants, too fast."

Elephant Family puts the current size of Myanmar's wild elephant population at about 2,000. Myanmar's Forest Department is said to have found that wild elephant deaths there have risen in recent years, from 26 in 2013 to at least 61 in 2016. Elephant Family says most of those deaths resulted from illegal hunting.

Stewart-Cox said, "You can get quite a lot of skin off a single elephant. And if you get a single killing of 25 elephants, which is what happened one time in Myanmar, that's a lot of skin."

She said the ivory trade is less of a threat to Asian elephants because only males have tusks.

She said dealers in elephant skin are more of a problem because "this trade is targeting males, females, juveniles and that means that no elephant is safe."

I'm Jonathan Evans.

Kaweewit Kaewjinda wrote this story for the Associated Press. George Grow adapted the report for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.

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Words in This Story

ivoryn. the hard white or yellowish material from a very long, large tooth of an elephant

beadn. a small piece of material placed on a string or wire

authenticityn. the state of being real or true

currency – n. money, such a banknotes

commitment – n. an agreement or promise to do something

domesticadj. of or related to one's homeland

perverseadj. turned away from what is right or good; marked by corruption

tusk – n. a greatly enlarged tooth

juvenileadj. undeveloped; involving young people or young animals

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