March 04, 2013 00:00 By Pongphon Sarnsamak The Nation
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has promised legal amendments and other measures to stop ivory trade, in response to international calls for Thailand's help.
To over 2,000 representatives of 150 countries at the 16th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, known as CITES, she vowed yesterday to end the ivory trade in Thailand. The Kingdom has come under heavy criticism for overlooking the smuggling of illicit animal products, while noting that the country was not a major end-driver of demand.
“Unfortunately, many have used Thailand as a transit country for the illegal international ivory trade,” she said, adding that the government is working with both domestic and international organisations to combat international trafficking in tusks.
“The next step will be amending national legislation,” she said.
Government officials, scientists and civil activists are meeting in Bangkok from yesterday to March 14 to decide how to improve the world’s wildlife trade regime that has been in place for 40 years.
Yingluck said her government has enhanced intelligence and customs operations to control and limit the smuggling of contraband ivory especially from African elephants.
“We are strictly enforcing the legal framework by limiting the supply of ivory products to only those made from domestic elephants, which is legal under current legislation,” she said.
PLAN TO INTRODUCE CHECKS
The government plans to register elephants in captivity and ivory shops nationwide to check the quantity of ivory and ivory products stocked and sold in the country. “This will help protect all forms of elephants including Thai wild and domestic elephants or those from Africa,” she said.
“I must stress that no one cares more about elephants than Thais and I believe that Thailand will be a strong ally in the fight against illicit trafficking in ivory,” she added.
Ivory trade in Thailand is legal. Some traders however use the loophole in smuggling elephant into the country before shipping it to the third country. Thailand has been criticised for not plugging the loophole, which led to massive killing of elephants elsewhere particularly Africa.
Achim Steiner, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme, said the UNEP’s recently launched Year Book reported the world elephant population is declining by over 6 per cent a year and is vulnerable to collapse. In many parts of Africa the slaughter of elephants for their ivory runs at 11-12 per cent of those herds.
“The illegal killing of large numbers of elephants is increasingly involving organised criminal groups and sometimes well-armed militias,” he said.
The UNEP has found that more than 450 elephants were killed in Cameroon early last year. Poached ivory is believed to be exchanged for money, weapons and ammunition to support conflicts in the region.