The prime minister of Thailand pledged to end the nation’s ivory trade, responding to growing calls from international wildlife groups desperate to stop the slaughter of African elephants. In a speech at the opening of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species conference in Bangkok, the prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, promised to amend the kingdom’s laws, which critics say include loopholes that have allowed smugglers to ferry African tusks to Thai markets and onward, often to China, the world’s top destination for illegal ivory. Thailand is believed to be the second-biggest market for illicit elephant tusks. The announcement, which pleased environmentalists, places additional pressure on China to halt its legal ivory trade, a thriving industry that experts say has helped fuel the highest rate of African elephant poaching in decades. Since the beginning of 2012, conservationists say, more than 32,000 elephants have been killed by poachers. Although some of the ivory ends up in Thailand, much of it is smuggled to China, where it is carved into the figurines, chopsticks and other trinkets coveted by that country’s newly affluent consumers. Animal rights groups have accused the Chinese government of failing to stem the surge in illegal ivory, a charge that Beijing denies. Changing Thai law, which currently violates international rules set by the convention, would also remove the threat of trade sanctions against Thailand that have been sought by conservation groups.
In a climate where both the black market price for ivory and its demand are so high, elephants’ lives are put at risk by the mere prospect of a sanctioned sale of ivory. If the poaching of elephants and ever growing trade in illegal ivory is to be seriously addressed, part of the solution to this complex problem must be a return to the full ban on the sale of ivory established in 1989.
Other measures which must be taken with urgency include:
Address the involvement of international criminal syndicates by means of strong law enforcement at both national and international levels along the full extent of the supply – demand chain. The effectiveness of this measure should be judged not only by ivory seizures and arrests recorded but also by convictions with proportionate penalties and the disruption of trade networks.
Close down domestic (national) markets in ivory, to accompany the international trade ban instituted by CITES.
Educate consumers in order to stem the demand for ivory. A survey in China found that almost 70% of the public thought ivory did not come from dead elephants but that it fell out naturally, like teeth.