If it's ivory, it's best to avoid it (Thailand)
How can you be sure that the ivory or ivory products you own are legal? What do you know about the law regulating the ivory trade in this country?
Thailand is considered one of the world's biggest markets for trading in ivory, after Congo and Nigeria, despite the fact that state agencies have stepped up measures to control the illegal trade in ivory products.
The Customs Department has made several high-profile seizures of illegal ivory at Suvarnabhumi airport. In February, a total of 239 African elephant tusks weighing two tonnes were confiscated.
However, the popularity of ivory goods here continues to increase amid strong demand from buyers in China and Japan.
Watana Vepayaprasit, director of the Wildlife and Flora Conservation Division, warned foreign tourists not to buy ivory or ivory products in Thailand.
''We have not arrested foreign buyers. But they may face trouble when arriving at their airports back home. It is illegal to take ivory and other products from elephant remains across international borders,'' said Mr Watana.
Ivory is protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) and Thailand's 1992 Wild Animal Reservation and Protection Act.
The Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation has launched a campaign with the Airports of Thailand (AOT) and the wildlife trade monitoring network, Traffic, to tell foreign visitors not to buy ivory or ivory products in Thailand.
Only local residents are allowed to buy ivory or ivory goods but this is on condition that the items must come from domesticated, not wild elephants.
Mr Watana said shop owners must hold certificates of origin to show to buyers the ivory and ivory products are from domesticated elephants.
''Trade in ivory from wild elephants is illegal. The challenge which authorities face in enforcing the law is that traders mix ivory from wild elephants with ivory from domestic ones, so it is difficult to separate them,'' he said.
For ordinary buyers, the problem is even more difficult. How can they know which ivory product comes from what kind of elephant?
Bussara Tirakalyanapan, senior programme officer of the Freeland Foundation, which fights illegal trade in wildlife, said the question is how to distinguish between the ivory of Thai elephants and from African elephants.
''It is impossible to distinguish products from the two origins with the naked eye. Only DNA tests can help here. That means buyers will never know whether the product they buy is legal,'' said Ms Bussara.
''The best way is not to buy ivory or ivory products at all,'' she said.
The Commerce Ministry and the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation have been checking ivory stocks at various shops to issue certificates to those trading honestly.
The group Traffic found last year that more than 26,000 ivory products were offered for sale in the retail market, a substantial increase from 2001.
Bangkok and Chiang Mai are the main outlets. Up to 70% of all retail souvenir shops offer ivory products to their clients.
The United Nations Climate Change Conference held in Poznan, Poland on Dec 1-12, 2008 raised concerns about Thailand's status as a hub for the ivory trade. In response, the Thai government reviewed its laws to clamp down on ivory being smuggled into the country.
However, more needs to be done. Customers must be told that they are buying potential trouble whenever they buy ivory.
They can never be sure just what they are getting, or what might lie around the corner.