Building on success, police vow to sustain ivory trade crackdown

The Royal Thai Police vowed last week to do all they can to wipe out the smuggling of illegal ivory through the country while saying a drop in the number of cases and seizures during the first half of this year was the result of their successful efforts in suppressing the illegal trade.

“We have made serious efforts to block elephant ivory from being smuggled into the country and sent on to another country,” said Deputy Police Commissioner Gen. Chalermkiat Sriworakhan at a press conference during which he detailed the results of the campaign against ivory smuggling for the first six months of 2017.

Because of its role as an air traffic hub for the region, its proximity to major markets in Asia for ivory tusks and items, and the diminishing but persistent problem of corruption, Thailand is a preferred transshipment point for the contraband that originates in Africa. In recent years, however, the Kingdom has made significant progress on the issue, scoring several victories against traffickers and strengthening its commitment to enforcing laws and international conventions, and protecting endangered species.

TRAFFIC, a Malaysia-based civil society organization that works to end trafficking in wildlife and endangered species, supported Chalermkiat’s contention that Thai law enforcement and officials have been achieving success in their efforts against the illegal ivory trade.

“Thailand’s legal reforms have paved the way for greater control of the domestic ivory market and it’s certainly something other countries in the region should emulate, especially its neighboring countries,” Kanitha Krishnasamy, acting regional director for TRAFFIC in Southeast Asia, told The Associated Press news agency.

During the first half of 2017, police seized only two elephant tusks and 422 tusk fragments, while in the same period last year they seized 99 tusks and 22 tusk fragments. However, there was just a small fall in the weight of the seizures from last year’s six-month total of 877 pounds to 797 pounds.

Over the past few years, “we have been able to effectively arrest more and more suspects with tangible results,” Chalermkiat said.

A recent TRAFFIC survey on the related issue of legal ivory sold in Bangkok also lent credence to his claim. Thai authorities have also been working to eventually end this trade, as illegal ivory is sometimes laundered through those sales. The survey found that in Bangkok markets 283 ivory products for sale in June 2016, compared to 14,512 in December 2013. Kanitha cautioned, however, that some sales might have moved online.

She added that it is important to monitor and test the ivory being sold legally in markets in Thailand to ensure that it in fact comes from legal domestic sources and not from Africa where elephants and rhinoceros are poached to the point of being in danger of extinction.