Massive quantities of African ivory are being laundered through shops in Thailand and fuelling the elephant poaching crisis, conservation group WWF says. The organization is launching on Wednesday a global petition asking Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to ban all ivory trade in Thailand in order to curb the illegal killing of African elephants.
Although it is against the law to sell ivory from African elephants in Thailand, ivory from domestic Thai elephants can be sold legally. Criminal networks are exploiting this legal loophole and flooding Thai shops with blood ivory from Africa.
“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. “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.”
Poaching is at record levels in Africa with tens of thousands of elephants being slaughtered each year for their ivory tusks. Trade data released last month shows that international ivory trafficking has reached its highest ever recorded rate. Thailand is the biggest unregulated ivory market in the world and a top driver of poaching and illegal trade.
“Thailand’s legal allowance of trade in ivory tusks from domesticated Asian elephants is exploited to market African elephant ivory as worked products through hundreds of retail outlets,” according to the 2012 report of the Elephant Trade Information System.
“Many foreign tourists would be horrified to learn that ivory trinkets on display next to silks in Thai shops may come from elephants massacred in Africa. It is illegal to bring ivory back home and it should no longer be on sale in Thailand,” said Elisabeth McLellan, manager of WWF’s Global Species Programme.
In March, representatives from 176 governments will meet in Bangkok to discuss global wildlife trade issues, including rampant elephant poaching in Africa. WWF is calling on Ms Shinawatra to use the opportunity to announce her country’s commitment to banning ivory trade in Thailand.