Poaching for international trade has escalated dramatically in recent years and is now the greatest threat to many of WWF’s and TRAFFIC’s flagship species.
Poaching for the illegal ivory trade is having a devastating impact on wild elephants, particularly in Central Africa where many populations are plummeting towards local extinction; tens of thousands of elephants are killed each year for their ivory,
most in Central Africa.
The current demand for endangered species products in Asia is unprecedented and often largely driven by demand for products as a demonstration of economic and social status and/or cultural value and beliefs.
While elephants are revered in Thailand, an integral part of Thai beliefs and culture, the country has the world’s largest unregulated ivory market
, and is consistently highlighted as one of the three most problematic countries worldwide in the illegal ivory trade.
The sale of ivory from wild elephants is currently illegal in Thailand, but sale of ivory from Thai domesticated elephants is legal. However, it is impossible to determine whether the ivory products are derived from wild elephants or are coming from ivory from domesticated elephants, and therefore enforcement agencies are currently unable to detect illegal ivory from wild elephants entering the Thai retail trade.
The legal loophole created by allowing unregulated trade in domestic elephant ivory also provides an avenue for the sale of illegally imported African elephant ivory, contributing to the current poaching crisis.
KEY FACTS AND FIGURES
- Thailand has the world’s largest unregulated ivory market, and is home to one of the world’s largest and most active ivory carving industries.
- Tens of thousands of elephants are killed yearly in Africa to meet Asia’s demand for their ivory tusks and products, such as trinkets and jewellery. In the first 2 months of 2012, more than 400 elephants were butchered for their ivory in Cameroon’s Bouba Ndjida National Park.
- About 2,500 elephants are estimated to be left in wild in Thailand. The long term survival of the wild Asian elephant populations in Thailand is also under severe threat due to poaching for ivory and elephant calves, as well as habitat loss.
- Wildlife crime is about more than just wildlife - it can fund regional conflict, leads to human deaths and is one of the 5 biggest transnational crimes.
- In 2011 alone, an astounding 5,259 elephant tusks were seized worldwide, representing the lives of at least 2,629 dead elephants.
- 2011 also saw a record number of large ivory seizures globally - 13 in total - which is only 3 less than the combined large-scale seizures in the previous 4 years (2007-2010). The 13 seizures of ivory in 2011 have a combined conservative weight estimate of more than 23 tonnes.
- In Thailand, ivory is worked into a range of items aimed at locals and tourists including; knives and swords with ivory handles, belt buckles, bracelets, pendants, ear rings and rings. Thais may buy ivory as small amulets and other good luck charms, and if wealthy, larger carvings of elephants and the occasional mounted polished tusks to display as status symbols.
- Thailand reported 20,680 kg of ivory in its stockpile of seized ivory in 2010.
- The CITES Secretariat report on Monitoring of Illegal Trade in Ivory and other elephant specimens stated that most of the ivory found in South-east Asia, including Thailand, comes from African elephants.
- The main areas where worked ivory is found for sale in Bangkok are Chatuchak Weekend Market, Charoen Krung (New) Road/Chinatown, the river front shopping complexes, the Tha Prachan Amulet Market, Sukhumvit Road, and the Silom/Suriwongse Road areas.
- The Asian elephant has lived alongside humans for over 4,000 years and is imbued with reverence, tradition and spirituality across many cultures. In Thailand, the elephant is a national icon: it has a national holiday designated in its honor and elephants can receive a Royal title from the King.