Thai stars join USAID anti-ivory campaign


Nearly three-dozen Thai celebrities and influential personalities are urging Thai citizens to pledge they will not buy ivory or ivory products in a social media campaign created by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and U.S.-based advocacy group WildAid. Thailand, once criticized for ivory sales, has made great strides in eliminating the trade.

The campaign is known as “I am #IvoryFree.”  According to WildAid’s website it “is an online public declaration to never buy, own or accept ivory as gifts, and an acknowledgement that ivory belongs only to elephants. [It] aims to raise awareness on how a consumer’s demand for ivory fuels the elephant-poaching epidemic. It also builds upon the rigorous actions that the Thai government has taken to comply with the country’s National Ivory Action Plan in the past few years.”

Some of the celebrities taking part in the campaign are model Cindy Burbridge, actresses Kathleeya MacIntosh and Khemanit Jamikorn, actor Naphat Siangsomboon, elephant activist Soraida Salwala, business tycoon William Heinecke, fengshui expert Tosaporn Sirtula and former central bank governor Pridiyathorn Devakula.

Thailand’s efforts to rid the country of sales of ivory products have won praise from conservation groups, but sellers and buyers are always striving to keep one step ahead of law enforcement. A 2016 report by TRAFFIC, an Asian-based activist group working to stop wildlife trafficking, said there has been a 96 percent drop in the number of ivory products on sale in Thailand’s retail markets. However, the organization said over 2,500 ivory items were for sale online in Thailand through Facebook and Instagram.

The elephant is revered and a national symbol in Thailand. WildAid said that over 33,000 elephants are poached every year for their ivory, mainly in Africa. Ivory is prized in Asia, and because of its role as a regional air hub, illegal ivory is sometimes smuggled through Thailand and on to other countries. Seizures of smuggled ivory by Thai law enforcement have become more frequent in recent years.

“Reducing demand for ivory is key to ending the elephant poaching crisis. With the public more aware of the bloodshed driven by the ivory trade, we will see less tolerance for ivory in society and much less demand. When the buying stops, the killing can too,” said John Baker, managing director of WildAid.

“This campaign shows that the Thai public is doing what it can to help save elephants from the poaching crisis,” Baker said.

The campaign also encourages members of the public to create their own “I am #IvoryFree” memes by uploading their photos at www.ivoryfreethai.org.

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