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03/03/2013

Thailand vows to ban ivory trade

Elephant

A mahout washes an elephant during a tusk trimming ceremony at Mahawangchang elephant camp in Kanchanaburi province March 2. (Kerek Wongsa/Reuters)

After years of pressure from wildlife activists, Thailand has finally promised to end its ivory trade.

But the prime minister has given no timeline to implement the ban.

The big announcement came on Sunday at the opening of the world`s biggest wildlife summit in Bangkok where representatives from 178 countries, that form the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (SITES), are meeting to discuss better protection for polar bears and tackle the trade of shark fin and ivory, among other things.

“Elephants are very important for Thai culture,” said Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. “Unfortunately, many have used Thailand as a transit country for the illegal international ivory trade.”

She received a petition from more than 1.5 million people around the world to ban the trade.

Thailand allows its nationals to trade in ivory from elephants who have died of natural
causes in the country but activists say the system is abused and ivory from Africa and elsewhere is laundered into products destined for China.

There are 67 authorized ivory vendors in Thailand but activists say there is ivory in hundreds of stores.

There is a total ban on international trade in ivory but there is a growing black market in many African countries and ivory from killed elephants makes its way to Thailand, say activists.

African was home to about 1.3 million elephants in 1979 but poaching has reduced the population to as few as 400,000, the World Wildlife Fund says.

As many as 30,000 elephants were killed by poachers for ivory in 2012; it was said to be one of the worst years for the pachyderms.

Meanwhile in Thailand, wildlife activists welcomed Sunday's announcement, saying that it would
help save elephants from dying a brutal death, and finally, extinction.

Raveena Aulakh is the Toronto Star's environment reporter. She is intrigued by climate change and its impact, now and long-term. Follow her on Twitter @raveenaaulakh

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