The open trade in ivory elephant tusks in Thailand is scandalous, and the Thai government is getting a lot of pressure to take some decisive action, but most involved in the fight are not optimistic.
If you go to the big markets in America and Europe, you won’t find new elephants tusks available because of tough sanctions and penalties on their trade. Ebay just started banning the sale of ivory elephant tusks on their website. But if you go to the famous Bangkok Chatuchak (JJ) Open Air Market or the River City Mall, you will find ivory elephant tusk artwork newly created available for sale all over the place. Go to a nice gallery in upscale Siam Square, you will see it. You are not supposed to bring it back home with you to the US and Europe from your vacation, but plenty of people do it.
The reason it is illegal outside of Africa and parts of Asia is that the elephant is recognized as a superior animal and their populations are approaching extinction. Their environments are being eaten up by development, their use to man is now limited and males have a great value with their tusks. It is amazing that the country that reveres the pachyderm to such a extent as to make them their national symbol would allow their body parts to be sold in the open market.
What would happen if we learned that Albanians had extra-large back molars in their mouth and we allowed the open sale of artwork chiseled into these teeth to be sold in art shops? Would we be surprised if the price was high enough that Albanians would get slaughtered in order to extract their teeth? Would we be outraged? Sickened? There would probably be some sort of an outcry heard heard around the world. I think what is happening to our elephant friends is almost the same.
As many as 30,000 elephants were slaughtered last year for their tusks. Thailand does have regulations that does not allow anyone to take tusks from a live animal or to harm an elephant in collecting their tusks, and allow only the taking of tusks from elephants that have died of natural causes within the country. Thai ivory tusks are supposed to be certified, but weak enforcement has not deterred tusk “laundering” from within and outside of Thailand.
Non-profit groups that track the trading of ivory tusks say that the numbers of sanctioned sales and what is actually on the market simply do not add up. It has been estimated by the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), that about 90% of the ivory marketed in China is illegal even under current weak regulations. These groups are demanding a complete ban in the trade of elephant tusks in any form. It is artwork that can have many substitutes (how about a carved piece of old wood?) that does not result in the death of this or any endangered species. For many (including myself) there seems to be no reason to not enact tough new worldwide laws against this trade. Would it not make sense to have a ban on a silly piece of artwork that will sit on someone’s fireplace mantel in order to save one of the planet’s greatest animal treasures? Or a really stupid looking woman’s bracelet? This is a form of art that should become history immediately.
The two biggest markets for ivory elephant tusks which allow for the sale of it are Thailand and China. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is holding an annual conference in Bangkok from March 3 to 14 and — to the embarrassment of the hosts — environmental groups such as World Wide Fund for Nature and TRAFFIC plan to open a motion calling for sanctions against Thailand from the 177 nations represented in the conference. Many are likely to get the cooperation of their home governments.
Past efforts and political promises of reform in Thailand on this issue have been thwarted by the lobbying efforts of the ivory carvers and elephant owners. However, now there seems to be extremely strong demands (excuse the pun, but demands with teeth in them) being made on the Thai government to make real changes. On February 27 (’13), Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was presented with a petition signed by over 525,000 people worldwide demanding the ban.
The Thai Prime Minister said she would “consider” a ban on the domestic ivory trade, but some officials apparently see no need.
“The Thai government has a system to control the ivory trade from domestic animals already,” said Theeraphat Prayurasith, deputy director of Thailand’s Department of National Park, Wildlife and Plant Protection.
“We do not use African ivory in this country, and the quantities are not too large to be from domestic ivory. It is the right of Thai people to use domestic elephants,” he said.
Activists will argue at the CITES conference that this system is not working, and the Thai ivory trade is a big factor behind dwindling African elephant populations. While many African elephants are being killed for their ivory, the market for them is not in Africa, it is in China and Thailand. There is an occasional bust that gets reported widely to help keep the protesters at bay and give the public the impression that real enforcement is happening, but somehow the ivory carvers have so many pieces of work they can put out on to the marketplace. Why can’t we simply close the door on the whole thing by not allowing elephant body parts to be sold as ornaments?
What can you do to help? First and foremost, don’t buy ivory. It is an evil art. If you see ivory tusks being sold, express your opinion to the shop owner. Loudly! Even if it a hundred years old, having a demand in the market for the teeth of an elephant or any other body part helps to pull along the market. So if you see these things in a junk shop, antique store or household artworks gallery in your home town, tell the owner you think he should donate it to a museum and not sell it. Get out of that business. If no one would ever think of buying ivory tusks, there would be no killing of elephants anywhere to produce it.
Breaking News – 03 March ’13: Thailand’s promise to end ivory trade cautiously welcomed. The “people pressure” is producing some results. BBC – 03 Mar ’13
More: Thailand’s Prime Minister pledges to outlaw domestic ivory trade. – The Guardian (UK) 03 Mar ’13
A word about Faux Elephant Tusk Art (aka fake tusks). Why do we need it? A fake body part of a wonderful creature? Please gimme a break….You can find this right now on Amazon and thousands of other sites. Please wake up Amazon, and wake up the guy next to you, too. This is a sick form of art. Period.