Killing the ivory trade

The 16th meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites), showed its teeth by coming up with a concrete action plan to curb the illegal ivory trade.

It ''officially requested'' eight countries allegedly involved in the trade, including Thailand, devise action plans or face trade sanctions.

The ivory trade issue had been put up for discussion in two main forums, Cites' Committee II and the Standing Committee.

At the Committee II forum, the parties endorsed agreements on checks of ivory stockpiles, DNA testing of ivory and legislative work to protect elephants.

At the 64th Standing Committee, China, Kenya, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, Urganda, Tanzania and Vietnam were officially requested to come up with national action plans ''aimed at reducing illegal trade in ivory''.

''It's the first time that Cites parties have implemented a process with timeframes and deadlines to improve the situation,'' said Tom Milliken, the wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic's elephant and rhino programme leader for the Cites-assigned Elephant Trade Information System (Etis).

''And it's the first time that if there is no progress to improve the situation; the committee can take action one way or another.''

As reported in the committee meeting, the deadline for the submission of national action plans by the eight countries is May 15. The Cites's secretariat will share the plans it receives with the committee and inform it if any of the eight countries fail to submit one.

The eight countries were asked to take urgent measures to implement their plans before the next Cites meeting in South Africa in 2016.

They were also urged to keep the secretariat updated and submit progress reports. The secretariat, in turn, will keep the committee updated.

Mr Milliken said Thailand was included with the other seven countries as being one of the main drivers in the ivory trade. It is identified as one of the two destinations for illegal ivory along with China.

Changing legislation in Thailand to help curb the trade is key. While Thailand argued that its current legislation allows only trade in domestic ivory, Mr Milliken said it was unclear whether the legislation helped prevent the smuggling of ivory from Africa and its trade.

''If there are no progress reports from Thailand, then the secretariat will report to the committee, and they can take further measures if necessary,'' said Mr Milliken.

Mr Milliken repeated what had been stated in several resolutions in Cites meetings _ a call that further measures include trade sanctions. ''And that's possible in this case,'' he added.

In the latest report by the UN Environment Programme (Unep), entitled ''Elephants in the Dust _ The African Elephant Crisis'', populations of elephants in Africa are still under severe threat as the illegal trade in ivory continues to grow, with twice the number of elephants killed and three times the amount of ivory seized over the last decade.

At locations monitored through the Cites-led Monitoring Illegal Killing of Elephants (Mike) programme alone, which are home to approximately 40% of the total elephant population in Africa, an estimated 17,000 elephants were illegally killed in 2011. ''Initial 2012 data shows that the situation did not improve that year,'' said the report.

Past seizures indicated that the ivory was destined for Asia, and involved criminal networks, the report further noted.

Mike was also quoted in the secretariat's report as stating that levels of poaching had increased in all African regions. Etis also indicates that the amount of seized ivory has continued to increase since 2010 and is currently at its highest level in the 16-year period examined by Etis.

Thailand, Mr Milliken said, can do more: ''African elephants were added to Appendix 1 [the list of the most endangered among Cites-listed animals and plants], and now here we are, something like 23 or 24 years later, and Thailand does still not have effective legislation for African elephants. We believe that most of the ivory here is not from domestic elephants but African elephants.''

Mr Milliken rejected the notion that it would not be unfair to call on Thailand to take sole responsibility to curb the demand side.

He said Thailand is highly developed compared to several African countries. African countries, he said, have been trying to devote resources to preventing elephant poaching, but they don't have the same resources to hand as Thailand.

''Some people take the view that maybe Thailand is not yet serious about moving forward on this issue. Thailand should not feel that it is being treated unfairly _ it is lucky that trade sanctions have not been imposed on it yet.

''I'm not advocating trade sanctions, but if there is no progress, you should try something else,'' said Mr Milliken.

About the author

Writer: Piyaporn Wongruang
Position: Reporter