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

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Governments Oct. 3 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 jewelry and powder to treat medical conditions and sold online through Chinese language forums. The sharing of their findings 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 includes 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.”

Heads of State from around the world are meeting at the Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference in London. Elephant Family is there to continue to garner further support for Asian elephants.

*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.