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Thai Corruption, Loopholes, & Adventure Travel Enable Illegal Ivory Trade

The elephant and ivory trade in Thailand, Asia’s largest illegal ivory market, has come under fire after a report published by wildlife monitoring network TRAFFIC highlighted how corruption, legal loopholes and a lack of law enforcement are contributing to the exploitation and dwindling population of the endangered Asian elephants in that country.

Although any kind of commercial exploitation and hunting of wild elephants has been illegal in Thailand since the 1970s, a steady demand for young elephants to be used in the tourism sector as well as an insatiable market for precious ivory in other Asian nations such as China and Japan has meant that Thailand’s Asian elephant population is under threat. Estimates indicate that there are between 1,000 and 3,000 wild elephants left in Thailand.

According to the report, while wild elephants are considered as protected animals, domesticated Thai elephants are classified along with cows, water buffalo and other livestock under the Draught Animal Act of 1939, which, as stated in the report, “does not ban the trade of domesticated elephants nor the possession or sale of ivory from domesticated elephants of Thai origin.”

As noted by Science Direct, domesticated elephants do not have to be legally registered until they are eight years old, which means that there is no way of knowing whether a young elephant was bred in the wild or in captivity.

Authorities have also turned a blind eye to the illegal importation of hundreds of elephants from Myanmar to meet the demand for elephants in the Thai tourism industry. Such elephants are often sold to Thai trekking companies for adventure tourism enterprises.

“There must be greater scrutiny of the live elephant trade if enforcement efforts are to have any impact at all,” Chris R. Shepherd, TRAFFIC Southeast Asia’s Acting Director, stated in a press release issued by that organization.

“Thailand and Myanmar should work together, and with urgency, to address cross-border trade problems,” he added.

The report also highlights that the sale of ivory is flourishing, despite pressure from local authorities and the international community. Although there has been a decrease in the availability of worked items, with fewer crafts people working in the industry, more retail outlets in tourism hubs such as Bangkok were selling ivory, and there was evidence of a previously unreported ivory industry dealing in jewelry, belt buckles, knife and sword handles which seems to be expanding.

“The Thai Government needs to crack down on this serious illegal activity and stop allowing people to abuse the law,” Dr Colman O’Criodain, WWF International’s analyst on wildlife trade issues, stated in the press release.

“A good first step would be to put in place a comprehensive registration system for all ivory in trade and for live elephants.”

The full report is available at:

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