It’s no secret that the demand for ivory in Asia has led to the slaughter of countless elephants in Africa. Whole herds have been decimated over the past decade and many African countries have watched their elephant populations dwindle to historically low levels. But on Sunday, the fight against the illegal ivory trade got a much needed boost when the Prime Minister of Thailand announced that her country would take major steps to end the sale of ivory for the first time.
Speaking at the annual Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES), Prime Minister Shinawatra said that her country’s goal was to fall in line with “international norms” in regard to the sale of ivory. That means banning the sale of any products made from the substance, which is currently freely sold throughout Thailand. Some of those products are made from the ivory harvested from domesticated elephants, but because demand is so high there, much of it comes into the country illegally from Africa.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, Thailand is second only to China in terms of the amount of illegal ivory trafficking. Because the sale of ivory is so common there, the country is often used as a destination to launder illegal ivory being funneled into Asia from Africa. If Prime Minister Shinawatra has her way, all ivory sales will be banned, making it much harder to smuggle elephant tusks into Asia. In the long run, this could help lower demand and lower the number of elephants that are being killed in the process.
Unfortunately, the Prime Minister didn’t share any details to her plan. At this point we don’t know how soon a ban could go into effect or how widespread it will be. Still, she seems committed to ending the sale of ivory in her country and protecting the remaining elephant herds both at home and abroad.
Tanzania has formally applied to the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species requesting permission to sell off its massive stockpile of ivory. The East African country has more than 100 tons of ivory in storage and wants to conduct a one-time sale to China and Japan. Proceeds from the sale would help fund elephant conservation efforts throughout the country, but the plan has drawn sharp criticism from conservationists.
The sale of ivory is banned in most parts of the world but demand has been on the rise across parts of Asia over the past few years. That has led to a thriving black market, which is supplied by the illegal poaching of elephants throughout Africa. In the past decade, poachers have slaughtered thousands of elephants to harvest their tusks. As a result, the creatures are now endangered across much of the continent.
Tanzania’s stockpile is the result of tusks being collected following the natural deaths of elephants throughout the country, but conservationists say they still shouldn’t sell off all of that ivory. Critics of the plan fear that flooding the market with 100 tons of ivory would only serve to confuse consumers, many of who aren’t even aware that it is illegal to purchase in the first place. They say it sends the wrong message at a time when they are trying to educate people about poaching and the illegal ivory trade. Instead they recommend that Tanzania destroy its hoard of ivory, something that the country Gabon did earlier this year.
As if the sale of ivory wasn’t enough to draw the ire of conservationists, Tanzania has also said that it would like to remove elephants from the list of the most endangered species. That move would effectively reduce the level of protection given to the animals and allow for commercial big game hunting and even the trade of hides and live animals.
For a cash strapped country like Tanzania, the sale of this ivory would bring in millions of dollars in revenue. But if it further fuels the ivory trade and could potentially increases poaching, the price of the sale could ultimately be much higher than anyone wants to pay.