Thailand's promise to end ivory trade cautiously welcomed

Elephant An elephant performs for tourists in Thailand where a legal trade in ivory is said to boost poaching in Africa.

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Thailand's prime minister says she will amend her country's laws to ban the legal trade in ivory.

Yingluck Shinawatra was speaking at the opening of the Cites conservation meeting taking place in Bangkok,

The legal market in Thailand is said to be fuelling high levels of poaching across Africa.

Critics say that there is a lack of clarity and detail regarding the proposed changes to the law.

Start Quote

We were disappointed by the lack of a clear commitment to banning the domestic trade”

End Quote Philip Mansbridge Care for the Wild

There are about 6,500 elephants in Thailand, of which 2,500 live in the wild. Ivory taken from domesticated elephants can be legally sold in the country but campaign groups and scientific experts say that this law is being used to "launder" ivory taken illegally from Africa.

Thailand is believed to be second only to China as a market for tusks, often brutally removed from elephants across the continent. It is estimated that between 50 and 100 African elephants a day are being killed to meet the demand.

Speaking at the opening of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) in Bangkok, the Thai PM said that no one cares more about elephants than the people of Thailand.

But she acknowledged that the current system was being abused.

How CITES works

The Convention assigns animals and plants to different categories depending on the level of threat they face:

  • Appendix I covers animals and plants in which all international commercial trade is prohibited except in rare circumstances. In this category are 530 animal species including tigers, white rhinos and gorillas.
  • Appendix II is much bigger. Trade is allowed in these animals and plants but strictly controlled by permit. Over 4,460 animals and 28,000 plants are in this grouping, including polar bears and some shark species.
  • Appendix III includes species that are protected within the borders of a member country. There are 290 species in this group, including the two-toed sloth.

"Unfortunately, many have used Thailand as a transit country for the illegal international ivory trade," she told the meeting.

"As a next step we will forward amending the national legislation with the goal of putting an end on ivory trade and to be in line with international norms."

No further details were given as to the timing and scope of any ban. Some campaigners were delighted with the announcement, saying they understood the proposed changes would protect all forms of elephants including Thailand's wild and domestic elephants and those from Africa.

Stuart Chapman from WWF told BBC News it was a "big occasion."

"We need to see detail in terms of the timeframe but it all starts with a commitment and we've never had that before, today the prime minister made that commitment," he said.

"This is a very important first step."

Tusk Ivory is openly sold to tourists throughout Asia but the origins are usually in Africa.

Others though were more cautious believing that Ms Yingluck was talking about curbing the international flow of ivory into Thailand by beefing up a DNA testing programme to validate the origins or tusks.

And with up to 5,000 stores, boutiques and kiosks selling ivory to tourists across Thailand, many believe it will be impossible to stem the trade, whatever the law says.

Philip Mansbridge is the chief executive of the wildlife charity, Care for the Wild. He told BBC news that the PM's intentions were unclear.

"While it is positive that the host country has recognised the size of the ivory issue and the importance of it, we were disappointed by the lack of a clear commitment to banning the domestic trade," he said.

"We don't feel it has gone far enough."

The Cites meeting runs until the 14th of March and will consider 70 proposals from governments to regulate the trade in species including polar bears, rhinos and several different varieties of sharks.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    Not entirely relevant, but it's funny how things such as cannabis isn't legal in Thailand, but the ivory trade is. What a crazy world we live in.

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    China is a huge problem. Until the world refuses to trade with them their abuse of wildlife and human rights will continue. Start by refusing to buy Chinese goods - it's a start and it has worked in the past.

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    Orangedog, how the hell did the rest of the develop nation established themselves to become first world nation without exploiting cheap labor including colonizing and reaping the land resources. You're blaming the entire Chinese populous with boycott, some who have move far away from China and have nothing to do with the country. Good luck on finding not made in China.

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    China is the problem.

    Unfortunately, it has 10th century traditions within a 21st century economy run by a clique of 20th century dictators.

    Why does anyone expect a decent response from them?

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    End all Ivory trade now, in fact end all trade that uses animal parts for Chinese medicine and other dubious reasons.

    The sadness is the earth will soon be solely inhabited by humans who have spent many thousands of years butchering and killing anything that moves including themselves.


Comments 5 of 77


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