Yangon - Myanmar lost at least 34 wild elephants last year to poachers supplying the illicit ivory trade, a government official said on Tuesday.
"We arrested poachers in 34 cases of elephant slayings last year but we believe there were a lot more deaths," said Aye Myint Maung,deputy minister of environmental conservation and forestry.
"There are some areas we can’t reach because of fighting between the government and ethnic rebels," he told dpa.
Vast tracts of Myanmar’s hinterlands are inaccessible to forestry authorities because they are under the control of rebel groups.
There are 2,500 to 3,000 wild elephants left in Myanmar’s jungles, down from 6,000 in 1960-1970, and 4,639 recorded in a 1991 census, the deputy minister said, citing government estimates.
The decline is due to poaching for their ivory, and also to trafficking in live pachyderms to supply the tourism industry in neighbouring countries, according to Myanmar conservationists.
"It’s very difficult to act against the smugglers because they are well organised," said prominent conservationist Thein Aung.
The government needs to combat both the export and domestic markets for illegal ivory, as the population of wild elephants has declined by more than 2,000 in two decades, Thein Aung said.
The government has designated several protected national parks as well as reserves specifically to provide sanctuary for wild elephants.