Forest elephants in the Mbeli River, Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park, Congo. Photo by: Thomas Breuer.
Yesterday, Thailand’s Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, committed to ending the ivory trade in her country. Her announcement came during the opening of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES) in Bangkok, which seeks to regulate trade in biodiversity across borders. Wildlife groups say that Thailand’s legal trade in domestic ivory—international ivory is illegal of course—has created an easy opening for smugglers from abroad. Currently the ivory trade in Thailand is estimated to be second only to that of China.
“We will forward amending the national legislation with the goal of putting an end on ivory trade and to be in line with international norms,” Prime Minster Shinawatra said at the conference. “This will help protect all forms of elephants including Thailand’s wild and domestic elephants and those from Africa.”
Shinawatra’s announcement came after a global campaign by WWF and Avaaz that gathered almost 1.5 million signatures.
Elephants are being decimated across Africa for the illicit ivory trade. According to recent surveys forest elephants in Central Africa have been hardest hit. The Okapi Faunal Reserve has lost 75 percent of its elephants to the trade in just 15 years, while 11,100 elephants were slaughtered in Gabon’s Minkebe National Park since 2004. Forest elephants have recently been shown to be a distinct species of African elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis). Savannah elephants are also being hit hard, including in many places where poaching had long been absent. Whole herds of elephants, including babies, have been killed buy well-armed poachers in some parks.
According to WWF, most of the ivory sold in Thailand is not bought by locals, but “foreign tourists.”
Conservation groups were generally happy about Shinawatra’s message, but noted that now Thailand needs to step-up with a deadline and further details.
“The fight to stop wildlife crime and shut down Thailand’s ivory markets is not over. Prime Minister Shinawatra now needs to provide a timeline for this ban and ensure that it takes place as a matter of urgency, because the slaughter of elephants continues,” Carlos Drews head of WWF’s delegation to CITES said in a statement.
Thailand is only one country of concern when it comes to elephant poaching; other countries include Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Vietnam, China, Malaysia, Philippines, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Wildlife groups expect elephants poaching, as well as rhino poaching, to take a large place at this year’s CITES meeting.
(03/04/2013) When the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) meets from March 3-14 in Bangkok for its 16th Conference of Parties (CoP16), elephants and rhinos will be at the top of the agenda. While there are no proposals to open up trade in either elephant ivory or rhino horn, there are several other items on the agenda that will likely generate debate, including proposals for extension of the moratorium on ivory trade, a decision-making mechanism for ivory trade, and suspension of any rhino trophy hunting. Also to be discussed are enforcement mechanisms, including how to prevent illegal ivory from entering existing legal domestic markets.
(03/01/2013) When countries meet in Bangkok, Thailand for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) 16th Conference of Parties (CoP16), to be held from March 3-14, they’ll consider 70 proposals submitted by 55 States regarding a range of species, from polar bears to turtles and tropical timbers. To help sort through the many agenda items, CITES Secretary-General John Scanlon provided the following overview of the most significant issues.
(02/28/2013) A key Congo wildlife reserve has lost 75 percent of its elephants in just 15 years due to poaching to meet Asian demand for ivory, reports a new survey by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Democratic Republic of Congo authorities.
(02/22/2013) Iain Douglas-Hamilton has dedicated his life to elephants. ‘I like elephants because of the way they treat each other,’ he says. ‘They’re very nice to each other most of the time, but not all the time … You see a lot of play…a lot of tender touching, caressing, tactile contact of one sort or another.’ The affection goes both ways. Douglas-Hamilton recalls one curious female who would always approach his vehicle. ‘Eventually I got so friendly with her that…I could walk with her and feed her the fruits of the wild gardenia tree. That was a very special elephant for me. She eventually brought her babies up to meet me.’ Douglas-Hamilton’s dedication extends to protecting the species from harm, and especially the ivory trade. He calls the current ivory trade “totally unsustainable” and recommends a total ban on the trade.
(02/06/2013) Surveys in Gabon’s Minkebe National Park have revealed rare and hard data on the scale of the illegal ivory trade over the last eight years: 11,100 forest elephants have been slaughtered for their tusks in this remote protected area since 2004. In all, poachers have cut down the park’s elephant population by two-thirds, decimating what was once believed to be the largest forest elephant population in the world.
(02/05/2013) The Sri Lankan government is planning to give 359 elephant tusks to a Buddhist temple, a move that critics say is flouting the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). The illegal tusks were seized in Sri Lanka last May en route to Dubai from Kenya; they are believed to stem from hundreds of butchered elephants, including juveniles, inside Africa, possibly Uganda. The decision comes after a high-profile National Geographic article, Ivory Worship, outlined how demand for ivory religious handicrafts, particularly by Catholics and Buddhists, is worsening the current poaching crisis. In 2011, it was estimated that 25,000 elephants were illegally slaughtered for their tusks.
(02/04/2013) Responding to an investigative report by National Geographic, the Vatican has condemned elephant poaching for ivory and pledged three steps to help in the battle to save the world’s elephants. The National Geographic article Ivory Worship, by Bryan Christy, looked at how religions—specifically religious items for Christians and Buddhists—were playing in the growing demand for black-market ivory, which is currently resulting in the violent deaths of tens-of-thousands of endangered elephants every year.
(01/24/2013) By some estimates, more than 30,000 elephants were slaughtered across the savannas and forests of Africa and Asia for the ivory trade during 2012. The carnage represents as much as 4 percent of the world’s elephant population. Accordingly, some conservationists are warning that elephants face imminent extinction in some of their range countries. While the plight of elephants is increasingly visible due to media coverage, less widely understood is the role religion plays in driving the ivory trade. This issue was explored at length in an explosive cover story published in National Geographic by Bryan Christy last October. The story, titled Blood Ivory, detailed how demand for religious trinkets is driving large-scale killing of Earth’s largest land animal.