Growing affluence in Asia has produced a new class of ivory consumers who have reignited demand and stimulated the illegal i vory trade, resulting in an escalating poaching crisis. A study published in July 2014 found that more than 100,000 elephants were illegally killed in Africa between 2010 and 2012, about 33,630 each year. The African forest elephant, in particular, has suffered a drastic decline in its population: in February 2014, scientists announced that 65% of forest elephants were poached between 2002 and 2013, leaving 95% of the forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo devoid of elephants.
Thailand plays a key role in the global ivory trade as one of the major markets for ivory consumers, acting as both a transit point and destination for smuggled ivory. Current Thai law allows trading of ivory from domesticated Thai elephants, but the market is fuelled by illegal ivory smuggled from Africa. The Thai government took steps to regulate and control ivory trading and possession by passing the new Elephant Ivory Act in 2015 and further demonstrated its dedication to ending the illegal trade by destroying over 2 tons of confiscated ivory in August last year.
While Thai people are not considered to be the main buyers of ivory products, the country’s legal domestic trade has stimulated demand from tourists, especially those from mainland China and Hong Kong which perpetuates the poaching crisis in Africa. Illegal ivory is laundered, crafted into carvings, ornaments and jewelry, and sold in the market as legal domesticated ivory.
In July 2015, WildAid, African Wildlife Foundation and Save the Elephants conducted a poll by TNS Thailand to understand Thailand’s ivory consumers, overall awareness of Africa’s elephant poaching crisis and attitudes towards the ivory trade in Thailand.
Survey results show less than half (45%) of Thai residents are aware that Thailand’s ivory trade is contributing to the poaching crisis in Africa. Almost half (49%) are unaware that Thailand is one of the main destinations for illegal African ivory and more than 60% do not know that ivory poaching is linked to terrorist groups and international organized crime.
An overwhelming majority of respondents (96%) say they are not likely to buy ivory products in the future and 93% pledge never to buy. Though 93% of Thais support reducing Thailand’s ivory trade, just 42% support banning all ivory trading.
The survey underlines the potential for changing Thai attitudes and behavior by increasing awareness of the elephant poaching crisis in Africa and the link between Thailand’s ivory trade and poaching, and highlights the need to educate the public about why regulating the existing domestic trade is not enough to stop illegal smuggling of ivory.