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, Steven L Herman is the Voice of America Asia correspondent.

You May Like

For Lebanon-based Refugees, Desperation Fuels Perilous Passage

In a war that has caused an estimated three million people to flee Syria, efforts to make perilous sea journey in search of asylum expected to increase More

South African Brewer Tackles Climate Change

Mega-brewer SAB Miller sent delegates to climate summit in Peru, says it is one of many private companies taking their own steps to fight climate change More

Indonesia Reports Increase in Citizens Joining Islamic State

Officials say more than 350 of its citizens are now in Syria or Iraq to fight with Islamic State - 50 more than last month 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.
Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countriesi
X
December 16, 2014 2:14 PM
Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video Turkey's Authoritarianism Dismays Western Allies

The Turkish government has been defiant in the face of criticism at home and abroad for its raids targeting opposition media. The European Union on Monday expressed dismay after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out at Brussels for criticizing his government's action. Turkey's bid to be considered for EU membership has been on hold while critics accuse the NATO ally of increasingly authoritarian rule. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video US-China Year in Review: Hong Kong to Climate Change

The United States is pushing for a code of conduct to resolve territorial disputes in the South China Sea as it works to improve commercial ties with Beijing. VOA State Department correspondent Scott Stearns reports on a year of U.S. policy toward China from Hong Kong to climate change.
Video

Video Japanese Leader’s Election Win Raises Potential for Conflict with Neighbors

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his allies easily won a two-thirds majority in parliament Sunday, even though the country has slipped into recession under his conservative policies. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Seoul, that the prime minister’s victory will empower him to continue economic reforms but also pursue a nationalist agenda that will likely increase tensions with Japan’s neighbors.
Video

Video Nuba Mountain Families Hide in Caves to Escape Aerial Bombings

Despite ongoing peace talks between Sudan's government and the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, or SPLM-N, daily aerial attacks continue in South Kordofan province’s Nuba Mountains. Adam Bailes was there and reports for VOA that government forces are targeting civilian areas, rather than military positions, with their daily bombardments.
Video

Video Indonesian Province to Expand Sharia Law

Indonesia has the world’s largest Muslim population and a legal system based on Dutch civil law and Indonesian government regulations. But in a 2001 compromise with separatists, Aceh province in Sumatra island’s north was allowed to implement Sharia law. Since then, religious justice has become increasingly strict. VOA correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh.
Video

Video Some Russian Businesses Thrive in Poor Economy

Capital flight, the fall in oil prices and Western sanctions are pushing Russia's staggering economy into recession. But not companies are suffering. The ruble’s drop in value has benefited exporters as well as businesses targeting increasingly frugal customers. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.

All About America

AppleAndroid