Request for the illegal jewellery is already so high in China that dealers are demanding more elephant skin from poachers.
Last year, rangers found more than 60 elephants slaughtered for skin in Myanmar, previously Burma – now the epicentre of this poaching rampage.
This year has been worse. Agents seized 66 trunks in a single haul. Two herds were slaughtered, with a additional six skinned elephants found in six weeks in the summer.
And if call for beads continues to grow at this rate, these already threatened animals could be poached to the brink of extermination within two years.
Christy Williams, WWF’s Myanmar director, stated: “This is the last chance for Myanmar’s elephants. Poaching and skinning is at unprecedented levels. If it continues, it could lead to the extinction of wild elephants here.”
Just 20 years ago the country’s forests were seen as a safe harbour for Asian elephants, but the rise in thieving in its largely lawless countryside has destroyed the 10,000-strong population. Attempts to protect the animals could be further destabilized by the growing humanitarian crisis in Myanmar. More than 400,000 Rohingya have fled an alleged campaign of military ferocity.
In the meantime, experts fear fewer than 1,400 wild elephants remain there. Days ago, Mr Gove announced a discussion on banning the sale of all ivory in the UK, increasing laws which had omitted antique ivory dating from before 1947. It was hoped this would help elephant numbers, but specialists say the spike in demand for skin could see them vanish from much of Myanmar by 2019.
Tusk less mothers and calves were previously resistant to ivory poaching but are now targets, preventing the species from reproducing and restocking itself.
And with poachers using poisoned darts to guard the skin, the animals face a cruel death. Mr Williams said: “It can take up to three days for an elephant to die. They wander in terrible pain.
“As someone who has seen many elephant deaths, even I am shocked by the brutality of these skin poachers.”
In the past, Chinese medication used elephant skin to ease stomach pains and in a paste for arthritic joints and diseased skin. But until now, medics normally used skin from animals that villagers had come across by chance and killed to eat.