5 min read

Elephants Are Being Killed For This New, Gross Reason

"No elephant is safe."

It's common knowledge that elephants have been pushed to the verge of extinction because of a desire for their ivory tusks — but many people may not realize that a new threat is making life for these majestic wild animals even harder: a demand for their skin. 

Warning: Disturbing images below

Elephant skin trade
Elephant skin laid out | Klaus Reisinger

"Elephants are being killed and stripped of their skin," the U.K. conservation organization Elephant Family stated earlier this year when it released a report on the growing elephant skin trade. "Cut into pieces the skin is sold on the black market, ground down to powder and promoted as a medicinal cure or, as Elephant Family investigations discovered, turned into beads for jewelry."

Elephant skin trade leaves part of truck behind
A trunk left abandoned by poachers | Klaus Reisinger Compass Films

This is not the only threat facing elephants across Asia. Elephants have lost 90 percent of their habitat over the last century, according to Elephant Family. Asian elephants are also stolen from the wild as babies so that they can be trained through an inhumane process called "crushing," which breaks their spirits and makes them docile enough to give rides to tourists when they grow up. And now the trade of their skin seems to add insult to injury for the species. 

Currently the skin trade seems to prey mostly on wild elephants in Myanmar. The products are then sent to China, where there's a high demand for them. Conservationists are urging anti-poaching strategies to be put in place in Myanmar, but many believe that, even if they are, poachers could go elsewhere to kill and skin elephants.

Elephant skin trade
Beads made out of elephant skin | Elephant Family

That's why conservationists are calling for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) to issue a ban on the trade of all kinds of elephant parts. 

"No elephant is safe," Belinda Stewart-Cox, acting director of conservation at Elephant Family, told Kyodo News

Elephant victimized by skin trade
Elephant killed for skin in the Rakhine State in Myanmar | DVB

"It is unconscionable that elephants are killed to churn out frivolous jewelry trinkets and bogus health tonic out of their skins," Iris Ho, senior specialist of wildlife programs and policy at Humane Society International (HSI), told The Dodo. "Asian elephants are one of the most imperiled species who already face a myriad of threats such as retaliation killings due to human-elephant conflict, habitat loss and fragmentation."

Elephant skin trade
Elephant Family

But Ho pointed out that not even the U.S. has banned the import of elephant skins from Africa, which sets a bad example for reforming wildlife policies both here and elsewhere. 

"When it comes to the use of elephant skins, the U.S. is a top importer of African elephant skins and leather products made of African elephants," Ho said. From 2003 to 2012, the U.S. imported 12,595 products made of elephant skin (comprising a majority of the total worldwide, which was 17,949).

"Elephants, one of the most charismatic species on Earth, should not be killed for their ivory, nor should their skins be relegated to leather goods," Ho added. 

You can help fight the elephant skin trade by making a donation to Elephant Family or signing Humane Society International's pledge to never buy wildlife products