By Janjira Pongrai
Acting on reports that Thailand is second only to China as a hub for unregulated ivory trading, wildlife conservationists are aiming to collect one million signatures calling on prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra to suspend the trade in Thailand.
During campaigning yesterday by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Thailand and TRAFFIC to protect African elephants from a spike in poaching, WWF representative Janpai Ongsiriwittaya said illegal traders had exploited a loophole in Thai law. Thailand’s had become the second-largest unregulated ivory market, she said, because although Thai law prohibited trade in African ivory, it allowed trade in domestic elephant ivory, which criminals were exploiting as a loophole.
Janpai said activists aimed to gather one million signatures against the trade by next week, after already securing 400,000 signatures, including that of American actor Leonardo DiCaprio. She said the signatures would be presented to Yingluck ahead of the 16th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), pressing her to suspend the ivory trade in Thailand and amend the law by placing all elephants, domestic and wild, under the Wildlife Protection Act.
Soraida Salwala, founder of the Friends of the Asian Elephant Foundation, said that although ivory traders had to be registered in Thailand, there was still a lot of ivory being smuggled from Africa into Thailand. Hence, she said, the legal ivory trade should be suspended while loopholes in the law were closed. She also urged Natural Resource and Environment Minister Preecha Rengsomboonsuk to explain to the CITES meeting why Thailand had failed to stop the illegal trade in ivory, and present the country’s standpoint and measures on the issue.
Former senator Kraisak Choonhavan said Thailand was a transit point for trade in wildlife products including ivory, shark fin, and pangolin, driven by high demand from China and Japan especially. Hence, said Kraisak, the wildlife conservation campaign should extend to these consumer countries.