BANGKOK - A major conservation group has praised Thailand for a huge drop in sales of ivory items resulting from an official crackdown aimed at shedding the country's image as a centre for the illicit trade in wildlife goods.
The wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC announced this week at a meeting in South Africa of CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, that it had found a 96 per cent drop in ivory openly for sale in Bangkok's markets, from a high of 7,421 items in 2014 to 283 products this June. It made its announcement at the release of a report on the ivory market in the Thai capital, Bangkok.
Police Gen. Chalermkiat Srivorakan, head of the Ivory Operations Task Force, expressed gratitude Friday to organizations that have spread news of Thailand's achievement and vowed to keep up pressure on the illegal trade.
TRAFFIC said that at the last major international CITES conference in 2013, Thailand pledged to implement a National Ivory Action Plan to combat illegal ivory trade. At the time, TRAFFIC said, Thailand was considered to have the largest unregulated ivory market in the world, but in 2014 and 2015, it instituted amended and new laws to deal with the problem. It passed an Elephant Ivory Act to regulate domestic ivory markets and approved new regulations criminalizing the sale of African elephant ivory.
"We must tackle this issue efficiently for the progress of Thailand," Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said in August 2015. "We must collaborate, co-operate, put into practice the introduced regulations and keep doing our best to protect elephants with strict enforcement actions."
Prayuth spoke at a public Buddhist prayer ceremony for slaughtered elephants, and his government incinerated over two tons of illegal elephant ivory.
"This dramatic turnaround is a market reaction to new regulations on domestic ivory and a very public commitment to law enforcement by the government," said TRAFFIC's senior program manager in Southeast Asia, Kanitha Krishnasamy.
"TRAFFIC stands prepared to work with the Thai authorities to undertake continued monitoring of markets and DNA testing to ensure the highest levels of compliance with the new policy framework."
TRAFFIC said a separate survey it conducted of the trade online on Facebook and Instagram between June and July 2016 recorded at least 2,550 ivory products for sale on 42 sites and groups.
"While the huge drop in the number of ivory shops and ivory items for sale in Bangkok sounds positive, it is critical that law enforcement efforts continue to focus on eliminating the illegal ivory trade," said Janpai Ongsiriwittaya, head of WWF-Thailand's Wildlife Trade Campaign. "Any future law enforcement and monitoring should also consider other markets in Thailand as well, including the emerging internet market for ivory."
There's very little elephant hunting still being conducted in Thailand, said Adisorn Noochdumrong, director of the country's National Parks Department.
"We've seen 40 per cent of stores that used to sell ivory close down," he added. "Anything that's left is selling ivory legally, although we're still skeptical of those, so we'll be investigating them to make sure."