Park chief rebuffs ivory hub claims

The deputy conservation chief has rebuffed suggestions that Thailand is a hub for the illegal ivory trade, but conceded that the country remains a transit point for smugglers.

  • Published: 3/03/2013 at 12:00 AM
  • Newspaper section: topstories

National Parks deputy chief Theerapat Prayurasiddhi was speaking ahead of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, which gets under way Sunday and wraps up on March 14.

Mr Theerapat said that while many felt Thailand would be on the defensive at the meeting, he was unconcerned.

''I'm not all that worried about the committee because they have visited us and seen for themselves the situation here,'' said Mr Theerapat. ''But there will be instances involving observers, including some wildlife activists, that we must deal with delicately, and we have prepared answers for their possible queries.''

He said that the perception of Thailand as an ivory smuggling hub was inaccurate.

''In the past three years, customs officials have confiscated more than 10 tonnes of smuggled ivory. With such a large amount, it has created the misunderstanding that Thailand is a hub for illegal ivory trade,'' Mr Theerapat said.

Cites' Standing Committee is meeting as part of the organisation's 16th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to Cites at the Queen Sirikit National Convention Center starting tomorrow.

Cites will discuss tightening or easing controls on the trade in wild flora and fauna worldwide, while the committee meeting has been specifically convened to discuss priority issues.

This year the focus will be on the progress Thailand has made in halting the illegal ivory trade following requests for the country to do so during the last two meetings.

In recent years, wildlife activists have stepped up their campaign to end the ivory trade. They blame it for the mass killing of African elephants.

The tusks are shipped illegally to many countries, especially in Asia, and Thailand is accused of being a major ivory production hub. Thailand adheres to Cites's rules on the sale of ivory internationally, but still allows the trade of ivory derived from domestic elephants.

The activists claim that this provides a loophole for African ivory to be shipped in and mixed with domestic ivory, fuelling the killing of African elephants.

Actor and activist Leonardo DiCaprio is one prominent figures who has appealed to Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to ban the ivory trade.

The official logo of the The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or "Cites" for short. The conference starts today at the Queen Sirikit National Convention Center.

''The illegal wildlife trade is the most urgent threat facing species like tigers, rhinos and elephants. These animals are being killed every day to feed an escalating demand for their body parts,'' DiCaprio said recently.

On Wednesday, the Worldwide Fund for Nature and the environmental group Traffic presented a petition with 500,000 signatures from 200 countries to Ms Yingluck calling for a ban on the trade in Thailand.

She told the groups: ''We already have existing laws to protect wildlife, and elephants are culturally important to Thailand. We will take the issues raised by WWF into consideration.''

Mr Theerapat said officials had considered a ban but would rather strengthen existing measures as a ban would violate the rights of legal owners of domestic elephants.

Thailand, he said, has a long history with elephants and the use of the animal's parts, especially for auspicious occasions.

There should be some other measures which are equally effective in controlling the trade, Mr Theerapat added.

Besides working on the demand side, Mr Theerapat urged activists to look back to where the ivory came from and take action in African countries to curb supply.

In the 62nd meeting of the Standing Committee last year, Thailand reported on the measures it took against the trade.

Among them were the introduction of a registration system for ivory processing shops, the introduction of records and inspection procedures, as well as planned legislation amendments to help protect African elephants domestically. The animal will be listed as a protected species under Thailand's Wildlife Conservation Act.

''The measures we have been taking may have some flaws, but at least we have taken action,'' Mr Theerapat said.

''We are accused of being a key actor, but from the arrest records, the ivory is in transit. Some of it may be brought into the country, but compared with what's in transit, it is a lot less.''

Mr Theerapat said he hoped the committee would understand the situation. He expected it to come up with additional recommendations for Thailand to follow. The committee's decisions are binding.

''Each country has different conditions, but we will do our best to regulate the trade by taking care of our domestic matters including the registration of domestic elephants to verify the origins of ivory,'' he said.

About the author

Writer: Piyaporn Wongruang & Apinya Wipatayotin

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