Ivory trade plan under fire (Thailand)


Apinya Wipatayotin, Bangkok Post

Date Published
The Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation has urged critics to consider its action plan to curb the illegal African ivory trade in the country before jumping to conclusions. 
Almost five tonnes of ivory seized during crackdowns by the authorities since 1992 are stored in a Royal Forest Department warehouse. Confiscated ivory is usually incinerated or kept for research purposes following legal prosecutions in each case. Pattanapong Hirunard
The plan was devised by key agencies such as the Ministry of Commerce, the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives. International agencies such as the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Traffic, the wildlife trade monitoring network, were also involved, said the department’s deputy chief Thunya Nethithamakul.
The plan was drawn up at the request of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
The deputy chief said the WWF and Traffic never said anything when invited to meetings but chose to issue statements to complain about the plan.
“It’s not fair,” said Mr Thunya, adding the critics should allow authorities to get to work before making such comments.
He suggested international agencies should do their job in controlling the African ivory trade and put more pressure on big purchasers such as China to stop buying ivory products.
The WWF and Traffic earlier met Natural Resources and Environment Minister Dapong Rattanasuwan, demanding the closure of all ivory trade shops.
But the minister said he rejected the demand, saying it would violate people’s right to do business.
The government is placing its hopes in a law change which forces retailers to register with the state, and in so doing have their stocks checked, to make sure they do not include illegally imported ivory from poached elephants.
Under the law, it is still legal to trade ivory from domesticated elephants.
Activists, however, said the law opens a loophole because it is difficult to differentiate between Thai elephant and African elephant tusks, meaning African ivory could still be sold.
The WWF said the national ivory action plan is unlikely to satisfy the international community’s requirements for urgent action on the country’s illegal ivory trade.
It also said the plan fails to verify whether remaining ivory in the retail trade has been illegally imported from poached elephants.
The group suggested the simplest and most effective way for Thailand to avoid global trade sanctions under CITES is to shut down the domestic ivory market.
Thanawat Thongtan, acting director of Wild Fauna and Flora Protection Division, said the plan meets CITES’ requests on the country’s efforts to stop the African ivory trade.
But the country is not required to stop the domesticated ivory trade.
“The most important message in the action plan is that we have assured CITES we are now ready to curb the African ivory trade as we have a new act, which is a significant tool to lead us to that success,” he said.
The department has already amended the domesticated ivory trade control bill.
The bill has been endorsed by the cabinet and submitted to the National Legislative Assembly. It is expected to come into effect by the end of this year.
If implemented, the law would require ivory shop owners to seek licences.
In doing so, the authorities will check their stock and issue ivory verification documents.
Other measures in the plan cover law enforcement, inventory stock-checking systems, public relations campaigns on the new law, and evaluation.
The campaign will be conducted from January to March, forcing all ivory shops to adopt the new system.
The Ministry of Commerce says about 200 ivory shops are registered with the department. But Traffic says there are about 1,000 nationwide.
CITES has threatened to impose a ban on the wild flora and fauna trade in Thailand if the country fails to set up a better action plan to curb the illegal African ivory trade.
If Thailand is banned, the country will lose more than four billion baht in trade a year. CITES is likely to deliver its decision on a trade ban at the end of March next year.