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Thailand: Promise to End Unregulated Ivory Trade

(Mar. 7, 2013) Speaking to the members of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), Thailand’s Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, announced that trade in ivory would be stopped in the country, although no time for an end to the trade was given. The parties to the Convention are meeting in Bangkok from March 3-14, 2013. (Thailand’s Prime Minister Vows to End Ivory Trade, THE JAKARTA POST (Mar. 3, 2013); Sixteenth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties, CITES website (last visited Mar. 4, 2013); Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (signed Mar. 3, 1973, as amended June 22, 1979), CITES website.)

Trade in domestic ivory has been legal in Thailand, but there is the possibility that smuggled elephant tusks from Africa have entered the market. Wildlife advocates point out that the impact of the trade is seen in the ongoing serious problem of elephant poaching in sub-Saharan Africa. (Thailand’s Prime Minister Vows to End Ivory Trade, supra.)

Shinawatra described several steps that Thailand will take to halt the international ivory trade. First, controls on local trade in Thai ivory will be tightened, with registration of domestic elephants and products made from their ivory, but there will not be a ban on sales of domestically-sourced ivory. The second step would be to change the country’s laws “with the goal of putting an end to (the) ivory trade and to be in line with international norms,” the Prime Minister said. (Id.) Referring to the possibility of a ban on the local ivory trade, Theerapat Prayurasiddhi, the Deputy Director of the Thai Department of Parks and Wildlife, stated it is a long-term goal, to be reached “step by step in the future – maybe.” (Id.)

While welcoming the announcement by Thailand’s Prime Minister, Carlos Drews, the representative of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) at the CITES meeting, added that “the fight to stop wildlife crime and shut down Thailand’s ivory markets is not over. … [The Prime Minister] now needs to provide a timeline for the ban and ensure that it takes place as a matter of urgency, because the slaughter of elephants continues.” (Id.) The Fund points out also that the announcement by Thailand came after about 1.5 million signatures were collected on a petition urging a ban on the ivory trade. (Thai Prime Minister Announced End to Ivory Trade, WWF website (Mar. 3, 2013).)

Thailand is considered by the WWF to contain the world’s largest unregulated ivory market. (Id.) It is estimated that about 70 years ago there were up to five million elephants in Africa; there are now only several hundred thousand. (Thailand’s Prime Minister Vows to End Ivory Trade, supra.)