Ivory sellers on the horns of a dilemma

Ivory shop owners in Nakhon Sawan and Uthai Thani are unhappy with the government's attempts to tighten local controls on the ivory trade.

  • Published: 10/03/2013 at 12:00 AM
  • Newspaper section: topstories

LUCRATIVE: Elephant ivory decorations are displayed at a Bangkok department store.

Most of the shops and ivory factories are located in the two central provinces.

The owners say authorities' strict controls on the ivory trade will destroy the tradition of ivory carving, forcing them to take their work underground to avoid arrest.

Their comments came after Natural Resources and Environment Minister Preecha Rengsomboonsuk last week spoke on the sidelines of the 16th meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites).

Mr Preecha said the conference would try to put an end to the illegal trade in African ivory in the country.

The meeting will finish on Thursday.

Thai law prohibits trading of ivory from wild elephants or ivory sourced abroad, however ivory from captive domestic elephants can be traded provided that sellers are able to prove that did not come from wild animals.

Wildlife activists, however, believe ivory artefacts carved in Thailand are made from wild elephant tusks, including illegally-imported African elephant tusks. They also voiced concern that the lack of a ban on the ivory trade in the country provides loopholes for businesses to mix tusks from wild elephants with those from domesticated ones.

Mr Preecha said authorities would investigate ivory shops to ascertain the amount of their ivory stocks. The shops would also be banned from buying new tusks for carving until the survey of nationwide ivory stock is completed.

The Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation will also conduct a survey of elephant shelters nationwide to gather information on the number of domestic tusks being stored there. The survey would help authorities determine the actual amount of domestic tusks, he said. If the amount is less than required to serve domestic demand, the department might impose a ban on domestic ivory trading, he said.

Suchart Apasarokul, owner of Nueng Nga Chang ivory shop in Uthai Thani, said he is unhappy with the government's attempts to tighten controls on domestic ivory trading as it will destroy the tradition of tusk carving. Mr Suchart said craftsmen would lose their chance to develop their carving skills because it would be difficult to find tusks.

"If the ban on the domestic ivory trade is imposed, we don't know how we can survive in this business," he said.

"Thailand has adopted many laws and regulations to control the domestic ivory trade, but many shops did not comply with them. Authorities should take legal action against the violators instead of issuing a blanket ban [on the ivory trade]."

An ivory shop owner in Phayuha Khiri district of Nakhon Sawan, who asked not to be named, said he believed that local ivory businesses would "go underground" if authorities put stricter controls on domestic ivory trading.

The ivory business in the country has changed greatly since authorities stepped up suppression measures against domestic trading, he said. For example, craftsmen have had to switch from real ivory to ivory-like material such as cow bone.

Some shop operators travel to China to buy ivory products to resell here.

The price of ivory has jumped from 800 baht a kilogramme when there were no strict regulations to 50,000 baht a kilogramme now.Anak Pattanavibool, programme director of the Wildlife Conservation Society, backed the ministry's attempt to tighten controls on the ivory trade.

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Writer: Apinya Wipatayotin
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