CITES exempts Thailand from ivory monitoring list

Thailand’s stepped-up efforts to eliminate the trade in illegal ivory have earned it an upgrade from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the global body announced last week.

CITES said that it will no longer require the Kingdom to file and adhere to a national ivory action plan, in recognition that Thailand has made substantial progress on this issue. Thailand was one of eight “countries of concern” named by CITES in 2013 and instructed to submit national action plans detailing how they would combat the illegal trade in elephant ivory.

“This is good news. Thailand does not have to follow the National Ivory Action Plan (NIAP) action plan anymore, but it does not mean that we will lower our guard,” Somkiat Soontornpitakkool, Director of Wildlife and Flora Conservation Division, Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP), told the Bangkok Post newspaper.

The elephant is Thailand’s national symbol, but the mighty pachyderms have suffered a sad fate in the Kingdom during the past century. Their numbers, both domesticated and in the wild, have diminished drastically. The main reason is the loss of habitat. The Kingdom lost much of its forests, the elephant’s home, because of the rising human population, expanding agriculture and the growth of towns and cities.

In recent decades, however, almost all the illegal ivory in Thailand has come from African elephants. Elephants in Africa are also in crisis as poachers have been slaughtering them en masse because of the high prices they can fetch for their ivory, especially in Asia. Smuggling between Africa and Asia in ivory and endangered species is extensive and rampant.

Several conservation groups have praised the Thai authorities for increased detection, arrests of smugglers, and seizure of ivory shipments from Africa, often at Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok. The authorities have also shut down many of the hundreds of shops selling ivory carvings, jewelry, and souvenirs. Although those shops insisted their ivory was from legal domestic stocks, conservationists claimed they were used to launder illegal smuggled ivory.

At first, Thailand was faltering in its battle against ivory smuggling, and CITES, which has 183 member countries, named the Kingdom as a Country of Primary Concern.

In response, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha devoted more resources to implementing the national action plan, and the situation has since turned around.