Ivory trade still thriving

Ivory trade still thriving

One of the achievements of the military regime has been a crackdown on the Bangkok end of the international trade in ivory. The government, wildlife officials and especially the Customs Department have taken badly needed action to combat this terrible trade. At the same time, it is clear there is much more to do. Yet another major seizure of ivory last week makes this clear: Thailand is still a major player in international wildlife trafficking, specifically poached ivory.

The seizure by customs officials at Suvarnabhumi airport totalled 28 whole and partial tusks. The 41-kilogramme haul was worth four million baht in its raw state. But the ivory would fetch at least 10 times that much had it made it to carvers and artists, and then the commercial underground market. It may be illegal to work or sell such ivory, but that isn't stopping the traffickers.

And this is the crux of the problem. Starting in 2015, a serious government effort against ivory smuggling succeeded in getting all the legal issues settled. New laws and regulations are in place, and the courts fully prepared to enforce them. There has been continuous training of both the Customs Department and other enforcement agencies. The missing links are aggressive steps against known ivory artisans, a lack of public education and -- arguably most important -- strong international efforts.

The crackdown on ivory carvers and sellers came as a shock to a formerly open market. It was a comparatively small, niche market, but it was extremely lucrative. Men who trained in the art were suddenly and legally jobless; shop owners specialising in ivory were suddenly without legal income. It was entirely predictable that some would continue in the trade no matter what the law said.

This was a breakdown and failure of local authorities. As last week's airport seizure showed yet again, even the poachers and smugglers of Africa realise there are smuggling channels and ivory carvers still working in Thailand. No matter how alert agents remain, the Customs Department will no more catch every ivory shipment than they have succeeded in halting drug smuggling.

Stopping the active ivory trade will not occur at the airport. Wildlife police have to take this problem to the Thai streets. They must expand intelligence gathering to root out the small number of ivory carvers and their enabling businessmen still involved in this harmful and odious trade.

There is almost no public concern. Thais may love their elephants but there are few signs that people are concerned about the fact that thousands of elephants die to poachers' guns in order to get the ivory to the Thai traffickers. Better public education is required to encourage the public to stay alert and inform authorities of ivory smuggling and sale.

But the ivory trade inevitably must be halted by determined international cooperation. Police know the route that the ivory took to get to Suvarnabhumi last week. The shipment originated in the DR Congo, and was flown to Ethiopia for trans-shipment to Thailand. The carrier was Ethiopian Airlines. With better and faster communications, authorities in Bangkok, Addis Ababa and Brazzaville would already be backtracking that route to pinpoint the smugglers involved.

That is not happening consistently or continually. Thus, more ivory will be taken from slaughtered elephants, sent on flights to Thailand to enter the illegal market. This is no time for self-congratulation by the government and departments for steps designed to halt such trafficking. It is time to step up the battle against the ivory trade to new levels.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

Email : anchaleek@bangkokpost.co.th

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