Amid an unprecedented elephant slaughter that's sweeping Africa, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is calling on Thailand—home to the biggest unregulated market for severed tusks—to finally outlaw its ivory trade.
While there has been an international ban on ivory trade since 1989, Thailand allows the prized good to be sold in domestic markets. This loophole, if you will, gives poachers the greenlight to transport so-called “blood ivory” into Thailand from Africa, where it is indistinguishable from domestic ivory. Once it reaches Thailand, the ivory is carved into Buddhist statues, bangles, and jewelry, which are then sold to tourists as overpriced souvenirs.
“U.S. consumers and travelers unfortunately play a role in illegal wildlife trade too. U.S. consumers should educate themselves on what not to buy while traveling and when at home,” said Jenna Bonello, of the WWF, to TakePart.
As Thailand prepares to host the world’s largest conference on wildlife trade (CITES) in March, WWF is also calling on Prime Minister Shinawatra to use the opportunity to announce her country’s commitment to banning ivory trade.
“Existing laws are not effective at keeping illegal African ivory out of the Thai market. The only way to prevent Thailand from contributing to elephant poaching is to ban all ivory sales,” said Janpai Ongsiriwittaya, campaign leader in WWF-Thailand, in a press release. “Today the biggest victims are African elephants, but Thailand’s elephants could be next. Ms. Shinawatra can help put an end to the killing, and I believe Thai citizens will support greater protection for these iconic animals.” (Click here to sign WWF's petition compelling Ms. Shinawatra to banish her country's ivory trade.)
The report chronicles the expansion of the ivory trade from 1996 to 2011. According to the report, “the level of ivory trade in 2011 is estimated to be nearly three times the level that was going into trade in 1998. Illicit trade in ivory is at its highest level over the 16 year period under examination.” ETIS calculated that seizures of illegal ivory in 2011 were 38,809 kilograms—a new record. Seizures have grown from 26,270 kilograms in 2010.
Thailand’s ivory market accounts for almost all of those seizures. The ETIS report specifically points to Thailand as being the biggest destination for the illegal ivory. “Thailand’s legislation continues to allow ivory trade at the retail level, which complicates effective law enforcement action,” according to the report.
Thanks to the legal domestic market, Thai law enforcement rarely, if ever, investigates ivory seizures. The lax attitude of the Thai government has contributed to the rise in poaching in Africa.
By pushing for Thailand to ban its domestic ivory trade, WWF hopes to close this loophole for poachers and save countless elephants from being slaughtered. The country’s negligent policies have created an elephant poaching crisis of record-breaking proportions. But with any crisis comes opportunity: In March, 176 countries are meeting to discuss the international wildlife trade. Thailand can use this summit to crack down on the ivory trade and help end elephant poaching once and for all.
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