In a public ceremony lauded by animal conservation groups, government officials in Thailand incinerated more than two tons of seized and smuggled ivory. The ceremony, presided over by Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, is the latest move by officials to avoid possible sanctions over a failure to combat the illicit trade of ivory.
Chan-ocha stated to the crowd observing the ceremony that, “This is to show the Thai government’s strong determination to oppose ivory trafficking and that Thailand will comply with international rules.”
Animal rights groups have long complained that Thailand’s lax regulations regarding the ivory trade have led to an increase in the poaching of elephants. The groups have pushed Thailand to destroy its ivory stockpile in order to send a message to poachers everywhere and to prevent pieces of ivory from finding their way back to the black market. In fact, several wildlife conservation groups audited the huge collection before it was destroyed.
Thailand has long been a major traffic hub and final destination for smuggled tusks - the majority of which are taken from wild African elephants. Loopholes in recent Thai laws allow ivory from domesticated elephants to be made into ornaments and sold. This has allowed for the illicit trade to thrive. However, in 2013, the organization that fights illegal ivory trade, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (“CITES”), put the pressure on Thailand to close the loopholes or face economic sanctions.
The Thai government hopes that the ivory burning ceremony appeases CITES. While many acknowledge that the work of stopping the illegal trade is not yet done, World Wildlife Federation (“WWF”) spokesman Janpai Ongsiriwittaya stated that, “Thailand’s ivory destruction is more than just a symbolic event since it follows a series of important steps that the country has taken to tackle illegal ivory trade in the past year. For too long Thailand has been exploited by wildlife criminals as both a gateway and marketplace for ivory poached in Africa and Asia. This event aligns the commitment of the Thai government and the will of the Thai people with the global priority of stopping the illegal ivory trade.”