Legal loopholes make illegal ivory trade thrive in Thailand

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Washington, June 19 (ANI): A new report from the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC has determined that legal loopholes and insufficient law enforcement mean that Thailand continues to harbour the largest illegal ivory market in Asia.

The report also raises concerns that legal provisions governing trade in domesticated elephants are providing cover for illegal trade in wild-caught, highly-endangered Asian elephants from both Thailand and neighbouring Myanmar.

TRAFFIC's survey documented over 26,000 worked ivory products for sale in local markets, with many more retail outlets dealing in ivory products than were observed during market surveys carried out in 2001.

Market surveys found 50 more retail outlets offering ivory items in Bangkok and Chiang Mai in 2008 than the previous year.

However, overall, there was less worked ivory openly on sale than in 2001.

"Thailand has consistently been identified as one of the world's top five countries most heavily implicated in the illicit ivory trade, but shows little sign of addressing outstanding issues," said Tom Milliken, of TRAFFIC, which oversees a global monitoring programme, the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS), for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

"Thailand needs to reassess its policy for controlling its local ivory markets as currently it is not implementing international requirements to the ongoing detriment of both African and Asian Elephant populations," said Milliken.

"Since 2004, the Thai government has only reported two ivory seizure cases totaling 1.2 tonnes of raw ivory," he added.

Thailand's capital, Bangkok, a major tourist destination, has emerged as the main hub for illegal ivory activities, accounting for over 70 percent of the retail outlets in Thailand offering ivory items for sale.

The report includes new information on ivory workshops-eight in Uthai Thani, one each in Chai Nat and Payuha Kiri, and three in Bangkok-between them employing dozens of carvers in the production of ivory jewelry, belt buckles and knife-handles.

Much of the ivory being worked is illegally imported from Africa.

Some workshop owners boasted close ties with European knife makers, while others reported sending ivory, steel and silver items to the US for sale in gun shops.

"The Thai Government needs to crack down on this serious illegal activity and stop allowing people to abuse the law," said Dr Colman O'Criodain, WWF International's analyst on wildlife trade issues.

"A good first step would be to put in place a comprehensive registration system for all ivory in trade and for live elephants," he added. (ANI)

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