Connect to share and comment

Thai PM vows to protect elephants as ivory trade scrutinised


Thailand's prime minister vowed to step up the kingdom's efforts to protect endangered elephants following pressure by conservationists to tackle the rampant smuggling of tusks through its territory.

Speaking at the opening of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Bangkok, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said she will amend Thai law "with the goal of putting an end to the ivory trade".

She did not give a timeframe for the amendment.

Activists say criminals exploit the kingdom's legal trade in tusks from domesticated Asian elephants to sell illicit stocks of African ivory, driving a poaching crisis that sees tens of thousands of elephants slaughtered each year.

Thailand is currently the world's largest illegal ivory market behind China, according to conservation group WWF, with scores of unauthorised traders selling products made from tusks. Foreign tourists are often buyers.

Carlos Drews, the head of the WWF's delegation to CITES, interpreted Yingluck's comments as a pledge to end the entire ivory trade in Thailand.

"We're thrilled to hear that Prime Minister Shinawatra took this opportunity to seize the global spotlight and pledge to end ivory trade in her country," he said.

But a government spokesman later told AFP her comments were not as far-reaching.

Yingluck "meant Thailand will take even more seriously the illegal trade in ivory... she didn't say anything about it (the legal trade)," according to Tosaporn Sereerak.

Defending her nation's commitment to protecting the species Yingluck said that "no one cares more about the elephant than the Thai people".

"Unfortunately, many have used Thailand as a transit country for the illegal international ivory trade," she added.

The premier said Thailand would establish tighter controls to curb illegal flows of ivory and ensure existing ivory supply is from domestic elephants.

In support of her pledge the environment ministry said it would carry out an inventory of the nation's ivory sellers.

Achim Steiner, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme, said the African elephant population is declining by ten to 11 percent a year in many countries which ultimately puts into question "the survival of the species."

Since coming into force in 1975, CITES has placed some 35,000 species of animal and plants under its protection, controlling and monitoring their international trade.

The 178 countries who have signed up to the convention -- and must undertake measures to implement its decisions -- will also consider growing calls for greater regulation of the shark fin trade.

Similar proposals to protect a number of shark species -- whose fins are prized in Asia -- have previously failed in the face of opposition from a group of Asian countries concerned about their fishing industries.

CITES, which ends on March 14, is also looking to strengthen protection for multiple plant species, including Madagascar ebony and rosewood, from a host of countries.