Ivory Sales Boom in Bangkok, Mocking Thai Pledge to End Trade

By Amy Sawitta Lefevre 4 July 2014

BANGKOK — Ivory items for sale in the Thai capital have more than doubled over the past 17 months, according to a monitoring group, despite a government pledge last year to put an end to the trade in a country where the elephant is revered.

A survey by TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade monitoring network that samples more than 100 shops in Bangkok, shows that the number of ivory products found for sale rose from 5,865 in January 2013 to 14,512 in May this year.

The network published its findings on Thursday in a report entitled “Polishing off the ivory: Surveys of Thailand’s ivory market.”

Last year, then Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra pledged to outlaw any kind of ivory trade, but there has been no progress. Yingluck’s government became preoccupied from late 2013 with containing street protests.

She was forced from office on May 7 and the military seized power in a coup on May 22.

Its ruling council has moved quickly to set out new policies but has not addressed the ivory problem.

“Thailand’s efforts to regulate local ivory markets have failed: It is time for authorities to face the facts—their nation’s ivory markets continue to be out of control,” Naomi Doak, TRAFFIC’s coordinator for the greater Mekong region, said in a statement.

A ban on the international ivory trade has been in existence since 1989 but that has done little to deter poachers and traders.

Thailand is the biggest unregulated ivory market in the world, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

Thai law prohibits the sale of ivory from African elephants but legislation is often poorly enforced and NGOs say ivory from Africa and elsewhere is laundered through the country, often to China, the world’s top destination for illegal ivory.

The Asian elephant is Thailand’s national animal but has long been hunted for its ivory and exploited for tourism. Thai nationals can buy ivory from elephants that have died of natural causes inside its borders but loopholes in the law mean that the ivory sold is often of dubious origin.