Elephants are no longer being targeted just for their tusks. Poachers in Myanmar are skinning elephants to satisfy a demand among Chinese consumers for products made from their hides.

Each year, the demand for skins has led to a huge increase in the number of Asian elephants killed in the wild, leading to a conservation crisis for the already endangered species. Between 2010 and 2017, the number of wild elephant deaths in Myanmar jumped from 4 to 59, according to a new report from the conservation organization Elephant Family.

Targets are shot with poisonous darts and slowly suffer to death before they are brutally skinned. The skin is then ground into a powder and used to create medicines, as well as prayer beads sold in China.

The escalating situation in Myanmar has conservation groups scrambling to enact better methods of protection for these animals.

Fewer than 2,000 elephants live in Myanmar today and this new trend could put them at even greater risk. Only a small percentage of male Asian elephants have tusks, but elephants of all ages — including mothers and babies — are fair game for poachers interested in hides.

“This additional pressure on young ones and breeding females will have serious amplifications on the future survival of this species in Myanmar. This is why it is so important to put a stop to this crisis now, before Myanmar’s wild elephant populations become biologically unviable,” Global Wildlife Enforcement Specialist Rohit Singh stated to Mongabay.

Image: Aung Myo Chit

The report from Elephant Family calls on Myanmar and China to develop more effective anti-poaching strategies, prosecute traffickers of elephant skin products and implement stronger initiatives to drive down the markets for these products in China.

In 2017, the WWF declared a state of emergency and implementing a #SaveYourSkins initiative to organize efforts to help stop these killings and protect the remaining population.

The campaign hopes to combat the illegal wildlife trade by allocating more protection to the remaining wild elephants.