The race against illegal trade

Asian elephants are in crisis as they are up against an emerging and horrifying threat: SKINNING

The race against illegal trade –

© Myanmar Government© Myanmar Government
© Gilles Sabrie© Gilles Sabrie
© Elephant Family© Elephant Family

In 2016, 421kg of elephant skin was seized in Southwest China. The haul, along with multiple sightings of elephant skin in Myanmar, confirmed a devastating trade. Elephants are being killed and stripped of their skin. 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 jewellery. Asian elephants are struggling to survive, they have lost 90% of their habitat in the last century – now they are being ripped from the wild for the tourist trade and their skin.


This might be the first time you’ve heard about the skin trade – this needs to change – we need to spread the word. The increase in trade for elephant skin continues to add to the myriad threats facing these animals. A threat with the potential to create enormous ripple effects on an already endangered wild Asian elephant population of less than 50,000. In 2016, at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), we let international decision-makers know what is going on in their countries and made the case for protection. While our recommendations were adopted the trade continues. And, as legal ivory markets close, a different trade once again threatens the survival of Asia’s elephants.

In 2018, Elephant Family published a report on its undercover investigation into the illegal trafficking of elephant skin. Our new report SKIN FOR SALE: The Continuing Appetite for Asian Elephants: Crime, Enforcement, Policy – published on August 12, 2019 – follows a further eighteen months of tracking this illicit activity as it continues to expand and shift strategies and locales, including in response to enforcement measures. Following the trade chain from the forests of Myanmar into China, the report highlights worrying evidence indicating that illegal trafficking of elephant skin, their body parts and derivative products like jewellery and traditional medicine has expanded geographically and online – even despite enforcement efforts at some border checkpoints and in some markets and stores in China and elsewhere. Our intention is not to apportion blame but to turn the spotlight onto the escalation of this crime and to call for the collaboration of governments, civil society and the wider public to tackle the issue before it threatens the survival of Asia’s elephants.

Read how our Skinned Report helped create positive change for Asia’s elephants at CITES in October 2018 here 

Read more about our discovery of gruesome ‘blood beads’ being traded online here

Read SKINNED: The growing appetite for Asian elephants, our April 2018 report exposing the rise of the trade in elephant skin products here



© Myanmar Government © Myanmar Government

Asian elephants are killed for their skin

© Myanmar Government © Myanmar Government

Fresh elephant skin is transported to black markets across Asia

© Gilles Sabrie © Gilles Sabrie

It is chopped into pieces and sold on the black market, used for medicinal purposes

© ©

Or transformed into beads for jewellery


© Shutterstock © Shutterstock

Baby elephants are ripped from the wild

© The Ecologist film unit © The Ecologist film unit

Kept alive and smuggled to tourist camps

© Elephant Family © Elephant Family

Many are even forced to perform

© Shutterstock



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