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December 11, 2008

Myanmar’s elephant smuggling trade in the spotlight
Myanmar is at the centre of an illegal trade in elephants and ivory, with more than 250 live animals smuggled out of the country in the past decade, AFP quoted a survey report as saying Wednesday.

Most of the elephants were destined for use in the tourist trekking industry in neighbouring Thailand, said the report by the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC.

Smuggling of live elephants and ivory is in "blatant contravention" of national laws and of the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), the group said.

"Our research found evidence of corruption allowing the illicit smuggling of ivory and elephants to take place," Chris Shepherd, senior programme officer with TRAFFIC, was quoted as saying in a statement.

"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," said Shepherd.

Smugglers took elephants over the frontier by bribing border officials, the report said, citing one guard as saying he had charged up to $200 per animal because he was saving up to fly to Germany for the 2006 World Cup.

Yet no cross-border trade of live elephants had been reported to CITES by either Myanmar or Thailand, and some traders said elephants had disappeared from parts of Myanmar owing to numbers captured for the live trade, it said.

A survey by the group of 14 markets and three border markets in Thailand and China, which both adjoin Myanmar, also found 9,000 pieces of ivory and 16 whole tusks for sale, it said.

Reports of elephant disappearances and the amount of ivory on sale "suggests that trade poses a significant threat to the survival of Asian elephants in Myanmar," said Vincent Nijman, a co-author of the report.

Myanmar has the largest elephant population in Southeast Asia, with an estimated 4,000 to 5,000 animals, the report said.

TRAFFIC and conservation group WWF called on authorities in Myanmar to work closely with enforcement officers in Thailand and China to address the illegal trade.

"Both Thailand and China must do much more to increase enforcement and crack down on this insidious trade," Susan Lieberman, director of the WWF international species programme, was quoted as saying in the TRAFFIC statement.

It called for greater monitoring of domestic elephant populations in Myanmar, including the use of microchip and tattoo-based identification systems to prevent illegal cross-border movement.

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