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Last updated at 11:12 BST, Friday, 11 July 2014

Illegal trade in elephants threatens their survival

Summary

7 July 2014

A new report says that wild Asian elephants are being held in horrific conditions in Myanmar, also known as Burma, as smugglers try to resume a money-making trade to the tourist camps of Thailand. The study, from Traffic, the wildlife trade monitoring network, says that young elephants are being brutally treated.

Reporter:

Matt McGrath

An elephant

The Indian Elephant is one of four subspecies of the Asian Elephant, many of which are endangered

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Report

Elephants are used to entertain foreign and domestic tourists at trekking camps all over Thailand. As visitors prefer younger animals, the value of elephant calves has soared to around $33,000 for a healthy specimen.

To meet this demand, smugglers in Myanmar capture and tame wild elephants from the country's shrinking herds. The young elephants are caught in pit-traps, cruelly beaten to break their spirits and then smuggled across the border. The Thai authorities have cracked down on this trade with some success over the past two years, but campaigners believe that criminals are now stocking up, ready to transport the animals once again, when restrictions end.

Traffic and other campaigners want to see a toughening up of the laws in Thailand. Elephants don't have to be registered there until they are eight years old, creating an opportunity for smuggled calves to be 'laundered' into the domestic population.

Asian elephants already face threats from habitat loss, agriculture and ivory poachers. According to researchers, the extra strain put on by the smuggling of live young elephants could threaten the long-term survival of the species in Myanmar.

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Vocabulary

soared

quickly increased by a large amount

tame

train to be calm near humans; train not to be wild

to break their spirits

(here) to weaken and control them

cracked down

started dealing with bad or illegal behaviour in a stricter way

toughening up

increase in strictness (here, of the laws)

laundered

(here) moved around illegally in a way which appears to be legal

habitat loss

reduction in the size of the area of natural environment (where the elephants live)

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