Thailand regional hub in illegal wildlife trade

BANGKOK – Thailand has become a regional centre for the illegal trade in wildlife, with more than 33,000 items worth about Bt160 million found in a recent survey in Bangkok, according to World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Thailand.

All products were made from parts of wildlife protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites).

The research, conducted from December last year, found ivory products topped the wildlife trade. More than 26,000 pieces, or about 79 per cent, were found. Most were being offered to tourists as souvenirs such as rings, earrings, necklaces and also Buddha images. WWF estimated that all ivory products it found worth about Bt140 million.

The next ones are crocodile and snake products, most of them presented as handbags and shoes. The others are products from parts of bear, tiger, as well sharks, butterfly, and giant clam. (see table).

The research area covered 111 four and five-star hotels which are members of Hotel Association of Thailand, eight department stores and seven souvenir shops located in three tourism spots of the city,   Sukhumvit, Silom and Chareon Krung.

Robert Mather, director of WWF Thailand, said the target of the products are foreign tourists whom do not know those products are illegal.

Michael Andersen, chief of programme coordination for Danish Forest and Nature Agency, said many wildlife products illegally reached Denmark were from Thailand. Many of the wildlife products, he said, were burnt while alive. “Those materials imported to Denmark by ‘unaware tourists’, most of them came via Thailand or directly from Thailand,” he said. Andersen added that the investigation showed that some materials bought by Danish tourists in Thailand came from Vietnam and Cambodia.

WWF Thailand’s Mather supported Andersen saying that 99 per cent of ivory products available in the kingdom were imported from South Africa. “Thai agencies related to the issue often claim that they can not prove whether the ivories are from domestic or wild elephant, so they hesitated to arrest the sellers. The fact is ivory products are from Africa, that violates the Cites,” he said.

By Thai laws, elephant has two status under two acts. The first one is to be transportation animal under Transportation Animal Act (Pls check the exactly name), which ivory trading is not banned. Another one is 1992 Wildlife Conservation and Protection Act which categorised wild elephant as conserved animal that all trade of elephant parts is banned. The problem that Thai agencies often claim is they can not distinguish which ivory from domestic or wild elephant.

Under Cites, which Thailand ratified in 1983, wildlife trade is banned except some animals that can be bred in farm. However, before transporting all products of wildlife that protected by Cites the licence from Cites authorities is required.

The Royal Forestry Department (RFD)’s Natural Resources Conservation Office which in charge of Cites in Thailand said it does not issue permission to any people to trade those wildlife. However, said the official who asked not to be named, the Cites officials does not have authority to arrested wildlife traders.

“You are better to contact the Forest Protection Office. Our responsibility is only to issue the permission,” said the source.

WWF yesterday also inaugurated its Wildlife Trade Campaign in cooperation with the Danish Cooperation for Environment and Development (Danced). Mather said the campaign focus in educate all people related in the wildlife trade and tourism industry of the kingdom.

He added he believed the all traders, tourists as well tourism guide do not know that wildlife products they are trading are illegal.

“This is why we don’t want to arrest them,” he said.

Mather said the first step is to explain all people and build up awareness to those people. Santichai Uajongprasit, Tourism Authority of Thailand’s deputy governor, said TAT will support the campaign by putting the non-wildlife trade in a condition for being green hotel.

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