Ivory industry representatives and wildlife officials yesterday took another step to shake off Thailand's image as the world's second-biggest destination for illegal ivory shipments.
A meeting was held with local ivory-product traders in Chiang Mai to ensure strict compliance with laws. Entrepreneurs from Lamphun and Mae Hong Son also joined in.
Although the ivory trade is legal in Thailand, only the ivory of domesticated elephants is allowed. But last year, a report by Cites (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) revealed that Thailand was just behind China when it came to smuggled ivory.
The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), according to the Deutsche Presse-Agentur, on Thursday called for strong economic sanctions against several countries, including Thailand, for their involvement in the illegal ivory trade.
Jongklai Worapongsathorn, the director for wildlife conservation for the Chiang Mai-based conservation area management office, told yesterday’s meeting that if the sanctions were imposed, Thailand’s trade in many areas could suffer.
“We have exported orchids to the tune of billions of baht each year,” he said.
He said because the illegal ivory could fetch more than Bt35,000 per kilogram on the black market, smugglers continued their trade despite the many arrests and seizures by Thai authorities.
According to Jongklai, Thai officials have seized about 10,000kg of illegal ivory from smugglers flying into Suvarnabhumi Airport.
Sermyos Somman, who heads the Chiang Mai-based conservation area management office, which covers Chiang Mai, Lamphun and Mae Hong Son, keeps a watch on the ivory trade.
“From our registration, there are 465 domesticated elephants in these three provinces,” he said.
According to WWF Thailand, the sanctions were invoked before in 1991 and it is possible that these economic measures will be used again.
WWF Thailand has said the amount of smuggled ivory to Thailand was up to 11 tonnes between 2009 and 2012. Ivory products, including ivory ornaments, are widely available at Chatuchak Market, amulet shops and hotel gift shops.
A 2008 survey showed eight shops in Nakhon Sawan had more than 7,600 ivory pieces for sale, and 151 shops in Bangkok had more than 12,000 ivory pieces.
Thailand will host the sixth meeting of the conference of parties to Cites from March 3 to 14.
WWF Thailand is calling on Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to temporarily ban the ivory trade until measures can be put in place that ensure only legal ivory products are sold in the country.