Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Ivory being laundered through Bangkok shops

Thai ivory ban needed to save elephants

January 2013. Massive quantities of African ivory are being laundered through shops in Thailand and fuelling the elephant poaching crisis, conservation group WWF says. The organization is launching a global petition asking Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to ban all ivory trade in Thailand in order to curb the illegal killing of African elephants.

Legal to sell Thai elephant ivory
Although it is against the law to sell ivory from African elephants in Thailand, ivory from domestic Thai elephants can be sold legally. Criminal networks are exploiting this legal loophole and flooding Thai shops with blood ivory from Africa.
Sudanese Janjaweed militiamen believed to be responsible for the massacre of hundreds of elephants earlier this year are on the move again in Central Africa. Intelligence sources say they are headed back to Cameroon with the intent to shoot more elephants for their valuable ivory tusks. This time, however, Cameroon's special forces will be waiting at the border. Governments like Cameroon are becoming increasingly alarmed by the use of wildlife trafficking as a source of funding for insurgents. Rebel groups, drug syndicates and even terrorist networks have seen an opportunity to profit from what has until now been a low risk, high reward criminal enterprise.

Populations of rare animals like elephants, tigers and rhinos are plummeting as a result. The products sourced from this bloody business are nearly unrecognizable on the other end of the trade chain where they are being sold in up-scale, air conditioned Asian boutiques. Intricate carvings, jewelry and medical tonics made from endangered species are becoming more and more popular in places like China, Thailand and Vietnam. Economic success has thrust swaths of people in to the middle class, and many have come with the desire to possess things that used to be out of reach to all but the highest elites. Although they are illegal, they are easily obtainable by anyone with internet access and a big enough bank account. Consumers of illegal wildlife products may not know that their money is being used by militias to purchase guns and bribe government officials. Militias like the one run by a man called 'Morgan' who led an attack on a wildlife refuge in Democratic Republic of the Congo in June. Morgan's crew shot dead seven people and took others as hostages and sex slaves. The destruction brought about by illegal wildlife trade has its roots in Asian demand. But poaching is able to thrive in places like Central Africa because governance is weak and there are few economic opportunities. This paradox has led to government paralysis. Source and demand countries are simply blaming each other for the scale of the problem rather than working together on solutions, according to the findings of a forthcoming study commissioned by conservation group WWF.

"Existing laws are not effective at keeping illegal African ivory out of the Thai market. The only way to prevent Thailand from contributing to elephant poaching is to ban all ivory sales," said Janpai Ongsiriwittaya, campaign leader in WWF-Thailand. "Today the biggest victims are African elephants, but Thailand's elephants could be next. Ms Shinawatra can help put an end to the killing, and I believe Thai citizens will support greater protection for these iconic animals."

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