More ivory seized by authorities at Bangkok airport

Thailand Focus Week of July 13, 2015

ThailanTF-5d’s war on ivory smuggling scored another victory last week when Customs officials at Bangkok’s international airport seized 130 tusks and other pieces of ivory shipped from Congo and on their way to Laos. The seizure was the 11th of smuggled ivory by Thai Customs officials this year.

Chamroen Photiyod, deputy director general of the Customs Department, said the smuggled ivory had passed through several countries before entering Thailand. He said that Thai officials had received a tip off about the shipment from a source he would not name, and had been tracking it since it left Addis Ababa in Ethiopia.

Customs authorities at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport stopped the shipment consisting of two wooden crates marked ”marble pieces,” which contained four suitcases with the ivory inside. Chamroen estimated that the value of the ivory was about $295,000.

Thailand strictly protects its own dwindling population of domestic Asian elephants. The Kingdom is, however, a transshipment point for traffickers smuggling tusks and ivory from sub-Saharan Africa to Asia. While some of this smuggled ivory may end up in the hands of Thai sellers or carvers, most often it is smuggled on to countries such as China, Laos or Vietnam.

The Kingdom’s position as an aviation hub for the region, coupled with the huge volumes of people and cargo that transit its airports and ports make it an attractive node on the smuggling routes for traffickers. Despite the immense volume of goods passing through the country, customs officials and police have been steadily improving their capacities to uncover and interdict contraband.

In late April, Thai Customs officials made their largest-ever seizure of illegal ivory, confiscating four tons of tusks and other pieces with an estimated value of $6 million. As with the latest shipment, that batch also originated in Congo and was on its way to Laos.

In January, Thailand passed new legislation to regulate and control the possession and trade of ivory. Under the law, possession of African ivory for sale in Thailand is prohibited. Over 20,000 African elephants were killed for ivory in 2013, according to a monitoring program run by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), leaving a population believed to be around 500,000.

Thailand has improved its capacities to stop wildlife smuggling by working closely with anti-trafficking groups such as Freeland and TRAFFIC, and with United States law enforcement agencies. It also is an important member of ASEAN-WEN, or the Wildlife Enforcement Network of the ten-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations. As part of WEN, Thailand shares its knowledge and experience with other countries in the region, aside from taking part in intelligence sharing and joint operations to stop transnational smuggling syndicates.

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