WITH WORLD Elephant Day marked yesterday, the World Wildlife Fund and wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic have called on Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to ensure legal reform and deliver on her promise to shut down ivory trade in the country.
In response to the dramatic rise in the number of elephants being poached for their ivory, the 64th meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in March mandated Thailand and seven other states to implement an action plan to reduce illegal ivory trade – or face trade restrictions.
Thailand’s ivory action plan, expected to be submitted to the Cabinet for approval this year, is required to specify activities to address the ivory trade legislation and regulation, national and international law enforcement, outreach and public awareness.
“Yingluck pledged at the opening of the CITES conference to end ivory trade in Thailand, seizing a key opportunity to combat global wildlife trafficking and address the elephant poaching crisis,” said Janpai Ongsiriwittaya, Illegal Wildlife Trade campaign leader in WWF-Thailand. “It’s critical the action plan honours the prime minister’s commitment, and sets out necessary legal reforms with a clear timeline to make it illegal to buy or sell ivory.”
Although it is against the law to bring ivory from African elephants into Thailand and to sell ivory from wild Asian elephants in Thailand, current laws allow for ivory from domestic Thai elephants to be sold legally. As a result, massive quantities of African ivory can be laundered through Thai shops. To save Africa’s elephants it is essential that Thailand address this issue.
“Ending ivory trade in Thailand –the world’s largest unregulated market – will go a long way in stemming a global poaching crisis that is leading to the slaughter of tens of thousands of elephants each year and fuelling a global criminal trade in animal parts,” Dr Naomi Doak, coordinator for Traffic’s Greater Mekong Programme, said.
For Thailand’s ivory action plan to satisfy the requirements of the CITES decision and deliver on Yingluck’s commitment, WWF and Traffic believe it must provide legislation that is sufficiently robust to prevent the sale of ivory of illegal origin within Thailand; forensic testing of large ivory seizures; and a comprehensive registration system for domestic elephants.
First few steps
On August 8, Yingluck visited the Kuiburi National Park in Prachuap Khiri Khan, a stronghold for about 230 wild Asian elephants along with other endangered species, including tigers, gaur, banteng and the Malayan tapir. She also recently returned from Tanzania, where she signed a memorandum of understanding of understanding for cooperation on national park and wildlife management and visited Serengeti National Park where elephants are being killed for their ivory, much of which is potentially destined for Thailand.
“Perhaps as few as 2,500 wild elephants are left in Thailand. That’s as many elephants as were wiped out each month in Africa in 2012,” added Janpai. “Thanks to the tireless efforts of rangers patrolling Kuiburi National Park, no elephants have been lost to poaching since 2010. But demand for ivory is immense, so while it’s Africa’s elephants slaughtered today, it could be Thailand’s elephants tomorrow.”
Along with Thailand, China (and Hong Kong separately), Kenya, Malaysia, the Philippines, Uganda, Tanzania and Vietnam submitted National Ivory Action Plans by the deadline May 15 deadline set by CITES at the meeting in Bangkok. These eight countries were requested to take urgent measures to put their plans into practice before July 2014.