Toggle Nav

Elephant and ivory trade in Myanmar

© Map prepared by Sandrine Pantel

Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) is the largest country in mainland Southeast Asia. Bordering five nations, Bangladesh, India, Thailand, Lao PDR and the People’s Republic of China, it is strategically located as a land bridge between South and East Asia. The country is endowed with rich natural resources – arable land, forestry, minerals including gas and oil, and freshwater and marine resources. Although rich in wildlife, habitat loss, illegal and unregulated hunting for domestic and international trade, threaten the existence of many species in Myanmar.

Law enforcement with respect to wildlife conservation in Myanmar is poor, and overall Myanmar has a weak record of transparency and accountability. Indeed, Myanmar consistently ranks amongst the most corrupt countries in the world, being in the unenviable position, alongside Somalia, according to the 2007 country rankings of the Corruption Perception Index from Transparency International.

Myanmar is thought to have the largest remaining population of wild Asian elephants in Southeast Asia, and is second only to India in all of Asia. In the past elephants were smuggled into Thailand for use in the logging industry. Since Thailand’s logging ban in 1990, the illegal market targets and sells to the lucrative tourism industry.

The Asian elephant is listed as Endangered under the IUCN Red List classification system. The progressive decline of the original population across Asia is largely due to unrelenting human–elephant conflict, habitat loss and fragmentation, as well as ongoing illegal capture, killing and trade. Asian elephants are protected in Myanmar as a “Totally Protected Species” under the Protection of Wildlife and Wild Plants and Conservation of Natural Areas Law. Violation of this law is an offence punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to seven years, or with a fine which may reach 50,000 MMK ($1,490).

Internationally, Asian elephants have been listed in Appendix I of CITES since 1975, which prohibits international commercial trade of live specimens, their parts or derivatives. This includes the trade in raw ivory, and all products made out of ivory. In September 1997, Myanmar acceded to CITES, thus committing to eradicating the international trade in Asian elephants and their parts and derivatives.

Myanmar, along with all 10 Member Countries of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), is part of a Wildlife Enforcement Network (ASEAN WEN). Formed in 2005, this represents the world’s largest wildlife enforcement network, which provides a platform for international cooperation between enforcement agencies to combat the illegal cross-border trade

The TRAFFIC report concludes that the fact that dealers openly display ivory and other elephant parts, and readily disclose smuggling techniques and other illegal activities with potential buyers, further highlights that enforcement is extremely lax. It also highlights a persistent international trade in live elephants from Myanmar to supply demand from tourist locations in neighboring Thailand.

Read the full report