Illegal Ivory Trade Persists Despite the Ban

For many years Southeast Asia had a bountiful supply of elephants to satisfy Thailand’s ivory traffickers, but the decimation of the species has seen them turn to Africa for their plunder.  The more than 1,600 tusks seized since the beginning of 2009 by Thai customs indicate that more than 800 elephants were slaughtered to feed a murky and voracious international market.

“Thailand is still ranked number one” in the ivory traffic rankings, said Chris Shepherd, deputy manager for Southeast Asia at wildlife protection group Traffic.  International trade in ivory was banned in 1989, but seizures have risen dramatically in the past five years.  Experts say the trade is passing through organised networks often linked to the smuggling of rare animals from Mozambique, Tanzania or Kenya.  “When you order ivory for decoration, one elephant will be killed — the killer is demand,” said Lieutenant Colonel Adtapon Sudsai, investigation chief at the Natural Resource and Environment Crime Suppression Department…Benefiting from its location, Thailand exports much of the ivory, rough or carved, to China — where it is traditionally used in medicinal powders — and Japan. But some also ends up in the United States and Europe.

Critics say the authorities need to take tougher action…Experts are pessimistic about justice being done, with a lack of communication between Bangkok and relevant African authorities and inadequate training of the customs and police officers.  When financial means exists, they are on the wrong side of the battle, experts say, with much remaining to be done against corruption…The local press recently reported on the disappearance of ivory stocks in a customs warehouse, an incident that does not appear isolated…

Amelie Bottollier-Depois, African elephants victims of Thai trafficking, Agence France Presse, Mar. 11, 2011

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