Thailand will give due consideration to a call for a ban on the domestic ivory trade during the coming Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) meeting beginning in Bangkok next week, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said on Wednesday.
The prime minister was responding to an international petition submitted by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade monitoring network, at Government House.
The petition, which has 500,000 signatures, calls on host country Thailand to ban the trade in domestic ivory from tame elephants, arguing that it is poorly policed and puts wild African elephants in danger.
WWF says 30,000 elephants are slaughtered for their tusks every year by poachers in Africa. Thailand is considered a centre of the illicit trade, with the trade fronted by its famed craftsmanship of domestic ivory products.
Thailand allows ivory trade only from domestic elephants. But activists said tusks from wild animals are smuggled into the country and used to make "domestic" ivory products.
"We will take the issue raised by WWF into consideration," the prime minister said. "We already have existing laws to protect wildlife, and elephants are culturally important to Thailand."
The WWF warned that wild elephants in Thailand could be the next victims if Thailand fails to take heed of the call for a total ban.
"If host-nation Thailand fails to take bold action - and that means nothing less than a ban on all ivory trade - then Thailand's wild elephants could be next," said Janpai Ongsiriwattaya, the WWF-Thailand leader of the campaign against the illegal wildlife trade.
Thailand has an about 2,500 wild elephants, according to WWF estimates.
Phansiri Winichagoon, director of WWF-Thailand, said the meeting was the best chance for Thailand to put the issue on the table and take the lead in banning the trade entirely.
The issue was highlighted earlier by Hollywood star Leonardo DiCaprio, who appealed Ms Yingluck to ban ivory trading.
The Cites meeting will be held at the Queen Sirikit Convention Centre from March 3-15. Representatives from 177 countries, amny from Africa, are expected to take part.
Authorities across the world seized 5,259 raw tusks from 13 raids last year, according to WWF and TRAFFIC. Thai customs officials seized 20.6 tonnes of smuggled tusks in 2011, it was reported.
Ivory products, including ornaments, are marketed by several shops in Bangkok. One of the best known production centres is Phayuha Khiri district in Nakhon Sawan.
Pol Gen Chalermkiat Srivorakhan, an adviser to the Royal Thai Police Office, and senior officials of the National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department inspected shops in the district on Monday.
They insisted that they found no raw ivory smuggled from Africa. All tusks used by the craftsmen had proof their source and origin.By Patsara Jikkham and Saritdet MarukatatBangkok Post27 February 2013
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra receives a petition to ban ivory trade in Thailand from Stuart Chapman, left, the Programme Director of WWF Greater Mekong, at Government House on Wednesday. (Photo by Chanat Kantanyu)