Yingluck promises to put end to ivory trade

Action needed to avoid sanctions, Cites boss says

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra pledged Sunday to end Thailand's trade in ivory following a global campaign calling for more protection for elephants.

Miss Universe 2005 Natalie Glebova, dressed in a superhero outfit, joins a campaign against wildlife crime at the opening of the 16th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species at the Queen Sirikit National Convention Centre Sunday. PATIPAT JANTHONG

Thailand would establish tighter controls to curb illegal flows of ivory and ensure the existing ivory supply is from domestic elephants before legislating for an outright end to the trade.

The promise was announced by Ms Yingluck at the opening of the 16th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP 16) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) in Bangkok Sunday.

Thailand permits the trade of ivory taken from domesticated elephants, but critics say illegal ivory from Africa often ends up here and mixes with the local product.

"No one cares about elephants more than Thais," Ms Yingluck told 2,000 participants from 177 countries attending the two-week wildlife and plant trade conference.

Environment Minister Preecha Rengsomboonsuk said the ministry would work with the Department of Provincial Administration to monitor the quantity of ivory at elephant farms here.

Ivory stocks at carving shops nationwide would also be checked.

"We will not allow the shops to place new orders for domestic ivory until amendments to elephant-related laws are completed," Mr Preecha said.

Thailand has been labelled as a transit centre of African ivory, Ms Yingluck said.

"We have been working with intelligence agencies and customs officials to limit the smuggling of African ivory. We have enforced regulations and amended laws to ensure that ivory products are from domesticated elephants," she said.

The premier provided no timeframe for the change.

Cites members and the international community say the African ivory trade is harming the elephant population.

Achim Steiner, United Nations Under-Secretary and Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), said the elephant population has been falling by 6% a year in Africa.

The killing of elephants for ivory in many parts of Africa is running at 11-12% of the population, he said.

Up to 450 elephants were killed in Cameroon alone early last year.

Poached Cameroonian ivory is believed to be exchanged for money, weapons and ammunition to support conflicts in the region.

Thailand has launched a crackdown on the illegal African ivory trade in response to the accusations that it serves as a trade hub.

Cites has issued a call for Thailand to better manage its domestic ivory, raising the possibility of trade sanctions.

Cites secretary-general John Scanlon said that whether Thailand would face trade sanctions would depend if it could come up with reliable a action plan against the illegal ivory trade. "We would like to see an action plan on illegal ivory crime suppression, together with a deadline for each plan," he said. "If the standing committee is not happy with the plans, trade sanctions could be imposed."

The country is expected to submit the plan for the standing committee's consideration on March 14.

In addition to curbing the African ivory trade, the meeting will also discuss the inclusion of a number of shark species under the Cites list to curb the killing of sharks for their fins. The meeting will also discuss a proposal to move polar bears from Appendix II to Appendix I and an increase of financial support for wildlife crime suppression for the Global Environment Facility.

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Writer: Apinya Wipatayotin
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