Myanmar is stepping up efforts to protect its elephants with a new conservation project following a dramatic rise in poaching in recent years, officials said Thursday.

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation (MONREC) has finalized an elephant conservation plan — the first such scheme for Myanmar, which has the world’s second largest Asian elephant population after India.

“The Myanmar Elephant Conservation Action Plan is very important to support the long-term survival of Myanmar’s elephants,” said Environment Minister Ohn Win said in a statement.

The plan includes legislation against killing elephants and a proposal to establish a registry of wild and domesticated elephants. It outlines ten-year priorities to safeguard the animals, including enlisting public help in controlling poaching and the trade in elephants and their parts.

According to government statistics, 133 elephants have been lost in Myanmar over the last seven years, including 61 to poachers. Last year saw the loss of 25 elephants.

“The urgency now for elephant conservation action is due to increasing killing for the illegal trade in ivory and parts,” Ohn Win said.

Around 2,000 wild Asian elephants and 6,000 used in the timber industry are under increased threat from poaching for ivory, elephant skin and other parts, as well as the capture of elephants for the live trade, the U.S-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) said.

Simon Hedges, elephant coordinator with WCS, said the plan — developed in collaboration with eight government departments and international conservation agencies — is a significant achievement towards securing the future of Asian elephants in Myanmar.

“Habitat loss, poaching and human-elephant conflict are pressing threats to elephant conservation in Myanmar,” he said in a statement.

British non-profit EleAid group says poaching for ivory, meat and other parts is on a small scale in Myanmar. “However, poaching to capture elephant calves is known to be commonplace,” according to the organization’s website.

“The mother and often other members of the herd will fight to protect the calf and the hunters frequently resort to killing them. The calves are then smuggled in to Thailand for work in the tourist industry.”

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