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

IS Militants Release 49 Turkish Hostages

Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency reports that no ransom was paid and no conditions accepted for the hostages' release; few details of the release are known More

Photogallery IS Attacks Send Thousands of Syrian Kurds Fleeing to Turkey

Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says more than 300 Kurdish fighters crossed into Syria from Turkey to defend a Kurdish area from attack by the Islamic militants More

Video Sierra Leone's Ebola Lockdown Continues

Thousands of health workers are going door to door in the West African country of 6 million, informing people of how to avoid Ebola, handing out soap 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.
Fears Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’i
X
Jeff Seldin
September 20, 2014 10:28 PM
Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Fears Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’

Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Obama Goes to UN With Islamic State, Ebola on Agenda

President Obama goes to the United Nations General Assembly to rally nations to support a coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He also will look for nations to back his plan to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa. As VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports, Obama’s efforts reflect new moves by the U.S. administration to take a leading role in addressing world crises.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid