U.S. and conservationists praise Thailand for destroying ivory



The United States government and several global conservation groups showered Thailand with praise last week for crushing over two tons of confiscated ivory tusks and trinkets to emphasize the Kingdom’s commitment to protecting elephants and rhinoceros and its “zero tolerance for illegal ivory trafficking.”

U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission Kristina Kvien and embassy officials joined Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on the grounds of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation where truckloads of tusks and ivory carvings were loaded into a machine used by heavy industry to crush rocks. After the ivory was smashed and pulverized, the remains were incinerated. It was the first time Thailand has destroyed any of its stockpile of seized illegal ivory.

“This is to show the Thai government’s strong determination to oppose ivory trafficking and that Thailand will comply with international rules,” the Prime Minister told the assembled dignitaries and media. “We must tackle this issue efficiently for the progress of Thailand. We must collaborate, cooperate and keep doing our best to protect elephants with strict enforcement.”

A total of 4,750 pounds of tusks and other illegal ivory were crushed and burned. Most of the contraband had been seized from traffickers smuggling the ivory from Africa through Thailand to Laos, China and other countries in East Asia. Some, however, had been seized from Thai dealers who had not registered their stocks because they could not prove their origins were legal.

“This event in Bangkok along with ongoing efforts (such as strengthening protection of African elephants under Thai law and tightening regulations on the ivory sale) signaled the government’s commitment to ending a global challenge of wildlife trafficking,” said the U.S. embassy in a statement published on its website. It reaffirmed a commitment by the U.S. to work with Thailand and other countries to end wildlife trafficking.

In 2013, Thailand came under pressure to shut down its ivory market or potentially face trade sanctions under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The government responded by drawing up a National Ivory Action Plan and passed an historic Elephant Ivory Act in January 2015. The Act allows for ivory from domesticated Thai elephants to be sold legally. Around 220 tons of ivory was registered by more than 44,000 private citizens earlier this year, numbers that surprised even informed observers.

Conservationists are still urging Thailand to completely eliminate ivory trading, as they claim that African ivory can be laundered through Thai shops. Nonetheless, they acknowledge that Thailand has turned the corner on trafficking.

“Thailand is wholeheartedly joining the worldwide efforts to end the illegal ivory trade that is fueling the poaching of Africa’s elephants and lining the pockets of organized criminals,” said Tom Milliken of TRAFFIC, a wildlife protection civil society group.

Apart from the destruction, 1,190 pounds of ivory were also allocated to museums and educational institutes for scientific research and educational purposes, with the condition they abide by regulations introduced by the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation. Recipients include Kasetsart University, Mahidol University, National Science Museum, Air Force Museum and Customs Museum.

“The Thai Government is taking wildlife crime more seriously,” said Steven Galster, Director of Freeland, another civil society organization that fights human and wildlife trafficking. “We hope the Government will now step up efforts to dismantle the syndicates that were behind the smuggling of the tusks destroyed today, and remain involved in ongoing trafficking.”



Thailand Focus August 31st, 2015
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