The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) banned the international ivory trade in 1989. However, in Thailand it is still legal to trade elephant ivory, so long as it comes from domestic sources. In theory, this means the only ivory being traded in Thailand is harvested from Thai elephants; practice has proven that not to be the case.
In July, TRAFFIC, the wildlife monitoring network, revealed the findings of their ivory market survey. By their calculations, the total amount of ivory for sale in Thai markets nearly tripled between January and May 2014, strongly suggesting that illegal ivory from African elephants was being laundered through Thai markets.
TRAFFIC published this information in a report ahead of an important CITES Standing Committee, in which Thailand would unveil its new action plan for cracking down on illicit ivory. The year before, in a Bangkok meeting amongst CITES’ 170 member nations, the prime minister of Thailand pledged to end the domestic ivory trade.
“As TRAFFIC’s latest market research demonstrates, Thailand’s efforts to regulate local ivory markets have failed,” said Naomi Doak, TRAFFIC’s coordinator for the Greater Mekong region. “It is time for the authorities to face the facts—their nation’s ivory markets continue to be out of control and fuel the current African Elephant poaching crisis. Without swift and decisive action to address glaring legal loopholes, this unacceptable situation will continue.”
The new policies Thailand presented at the July meeting were deemed insufficient by CITES, and the Convention gave the nation until September 30 to revise its plan – particularly in regards to its penalties in the cases of possession and trade. Thailand was threatened with sanctions if it did not comply.
Thailand’s latest plan has been declared unsatisfactory by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). The proposal does not outline a method for verifying domestic ivory, and its penalties for violating the new plan are insufficient to deter illegal traders. On its website, the WWF calls for a complete shut down of Thailand’s domestic trade.
“Only by closing the domestic trade in ivory can Thailand help eliminate the threat to African elephants,” Trishna Gurung writes on the organization’s website.
In July, CITES estimated that 20,000 elephants had been poached for their ivory in 2013. The killing of elephants has become so widespread across the continent that Samuel Wasser of the University of Washington has predicted that major groups of elephants will be extinct by 2020.