Myanmar emerges as ivory trade and elephant smuggling hot spot

11 December 2008 | International news release

About 250 live Asian Elephants have been smuggled from Myanmar in the past decade, mostly destined for “elephant trekking” tourism activities in neighbouring Thailand, reveals a report by the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC, a joint programme of IUCN and WWF.

Meanwhile blatant illegal ivory trade continues in Myanmar, with TRAFFIC surveys of 14 markets and three border markets in Thailand and China finding 9,000 pieces of ivory and 16 whole tusks for sale. 

Retailers generally displayed ivory and other elephant parts quite openly and rarely hesitated in disclosing smuggling techniques and other illegal activities to TRAFFIC staff posing as potential buyers.

“Myanmar has the potential to become a major stronghold for Asian Elephants; it’s a pity that illegal capture and killing are pushing elephants towards extinction there,” says Ajay Desai, Co-Chair of the IUCN Asian Elephant Specialist Group. “Neighbouring countries need to seriously reconsider their policy on the use of captive elephants and enforce laws to stop illegal trade in wildlife products.”

The smuggling of live elephants, ivory and other elephant parts out of Myanmar and into neighbouring China and Thailand occurs in blatant contravention of national laws and CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora).

Chris Shepherd, Senior Programme Officer with TRAFFIC said the report confirmed a serious lack of law enforcement and a blatant disregard for international conventions and national laws in Myanmar and neighbouring states.

“Females and juvenile elephants are particularly targeted to supply the demand from the tourism industry in Thailand, where they are put to work in elephant trekking centres,” says Chris Shepherd, Senior Programme Officer with TRAFFIC. “Our research found evidence of corruption allowing the illicit smuggling of ivory and elephants to take place.”

No cross-border trade of live elephants has been reported to CITES by either Myanmar or Thailand. Some traders questioned claimed elephants had disappeared from parts of Myanmar, owing to numbers captured for the live trade.

“Anecdotal reports of elephant disappearances, together with the large volume of ivory and elephant parts consistently observed for sale at markets over a period of several years suggests that trade poses a significant threat to the survival of Asian Elephants in Myanmar,” says Vincent Nijman, a co-author of the report.

TRAFFIC and WWF call on authorities in Myanmar to work closely with enforcement officers in neighbouring Thailand and China to address the illegal trade in live elephants and ivory.

“Both Thailand and China must do much more to increase enforcement and crack down on this insidious trade,” says Susan Lieberman, Director of WWF International’s Species Programme.

Both Thailand and Myanmar are also members of the ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network, a regional network established to promote cross-border collaboration to tackle illegal wildlife trade. The findings are published today in Elephant and ivory trade in Myanmar.

For further information please contact

  • Chris R. Shepherd, Senior Programme Officer for TRAFFIC Southeast Asia (in Malaysia) t +603 78803940, m +6 012 234 0790, e cstsea@po.jaring.my
  • Richard Thomas, Communications Co-ordinator, TRAFFIC. t +44 1223 279068, m +44 752 6646 216. E-mail richard.thomas@traffic.org
  • Sarah Horsley, IUCN Media Relations Officer, m +41 79 528 3486, e sarah.horsley@iucn.org
  • Sarah Janicke, Species Communications Manager, WWF, t +41 22 3649250, m +41 79 528 8641, e sjanicke@wwfint.org