News / Asia

Illicit Ivory Sales Booming in Bangkok

Ivory bracelets on sale in Tha Phrachan market, Thailand. (Courtesy TRAFFIC)
Ivory bracelets on sale in Tha Phrachan market, Thailand. (Courtesy TRAFFIC)

The sale of ivory products is booming in Bangkok, according to a new study.

The number of items in shops in the Thai capital has nearly tripled in the past year-and-a-half. And the number of outlets - primarily targeting Chinese tourists - has steeply risen.

According to the study conducted by the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC, the quantity exceeds the supply legally available under a 75-year-old Thai law allowing sales of tusks from domesticated Asian elephants.

“It’s not illegal to sell ivory in Thailand so it is quite open," said Naomi Doak, TRAFFIC’s coordinator for the Greater Mekong region who authored the report. "We just went around to each of the identified retail outlets and identified the type of products they were selling. Sometimes it’s chopsticks. Sometimes small carvings of animals. Sometimes quite large carvings of animals, lots of bangles, and beads and bracelets. We counted and estimated the number of each of those different products.”

No ivory registration system

Because Thailand has no ivory registration system in place, it is not possible to trace the lucrative product. And that, according to the TRAFFIC monitoring networks, allows a loophole for laundering illegal ivory from African elephants into the Thai marketplace.

Previous Thai civilian governments have pledged to end the country’s domestic ivory trade but it’s unclear how those pledges will be honored following the May 22 military coup.

In the meantime, Doak says the illegal trade continues.

“You can’t discount the political situation as affecting the speed of their action on this issue," she said. "But, unfortunately, the poachers aren’t slowing down because of political situations. They’re marching on and elephants are still being killed at unsustainable levels.”

Royal Thai Police deputy spokesman, Col. Krisana Pattanachareon, says Thai authorities will eventually make good on their pledge.

“I’m a bit optimistic because if we really get on to it, although it will take a long time to solve the problem, but surely we will get there one day,” he said.

Lucrative illicit trade

The police colonel says Thailand is caught in the middle of a lucrative illicit global trade.

Ivory objects for sale on display in a Thailand shop. (Courtesy TRAFFIC)Ivory objects for sale on display in a Thailand shop. (Courtesy TRAFFIC)
x
Ivory objects for sale on display in a Thailand shop. (Courtesy TRAFFIC)
Ivory objects for sale on display in a Thailand shop. (Courtesy TRAFFIC)

“We are talking about a very complicated issue here as Thailand is not the originating country and it is not the destination country either," Krisana said. "It’s only the traffic country.”

TRAFFIC’s Doak is calling on Thai authorities to acknowledge their nation’s ivory trade is now out of control and fueling the African Elephant poaching crisis.

“We want them to do what they’ve been saying they’ll do for at least ten years now, which is to close or to adjust and change the current legislations that would make the sale of African ivory in Thailand illegal,” she said.

The new data asserting a significant increase in ivory objects on sale in Bangkok means Thailand is certain to face increased scrutiny at next week’s meeting of the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in Geneva.

Environmentalists say 20,000 of the remaining 500,000 African elephants were killed last year, primarily poached for their ivory to meet the Asian demand.

Ideal marketing spot

Thailand is an ideal spot for marketing to buyers.

More than 25 million people visit the country annually. And the number of Chinese tourists is rapidly escalating. Last year 4.7 million Chinese took trips to Thailand, a jump of nearly 70 percent from 2012.

Elephant tusks and teeth are carved into a variety of objects and shapes from ivory that sells for up to $2,000 a kilogram on the black market.

The trade in ivory goes back to ancient history. But prices have soared 50-fold in the last decade as legitimate sources grew scarcer.

Ivory was once made into numerous practical products, such as buttons, combs, hairpins and utensils and in modern times, such items as billiard balls and piano keys.

China is estimated to be the destination for as much as 70 percent of the illegal ivory market. For many modern middle class and upper class Chinese, ivory objects are believed to bring good luck or are a way to display status.

At risk

Most at risk to fuel this growing demand are the African elephants.

Their Asian cousins are smaller and none of the females and only some of the males have tusks.

Most of the remaining 30,000 Asian elephants taken from the wild are not killed but put to work or end up at zoos or as tourist attractions. Their trimmed tusks are the source of the legitimate domestic ivory.

Elephants are revered in Thailand as a component of national identity, beliefs and culture.

Those trying to preserve the pachyderms are hoping those deep emotional ties among the Thai population will help spur greater efforts here to save the largest land mammal.

 

 


Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

You May Like

Captured IS Militants Explain Why They Fought

Fighters from Turkey, Syria tell VOA Kurdish Service what drew them to extremism, jihad More

Security Experts Split on Kenyan Barrier Wall

Experts divided on whether initiative aiming to keep out al-Shabab militants is long-awaited solution or misguided effort More

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Officials say they hope to turn Manila into the next Macau, which has long been Asia’s gambling hub More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: alfred from: long beach
July 02, 2014 2:17 PM
boycott chinese "goods"!

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More