Thailand destroys stockpile of illegal ivory

Confiscated elephant tusks about to be destroyed as part of a campaign against those involved in the illicit ivory trade.
Confiscated elephant tusks about to be destroyed as part of a campaign against those involved in the illicit ivory trade.PHOTO: REUTERS

BANGKOK • Thailand has destroyed more than two tonnes of ivory - a victory for animal rights groups fighting against the trade in a country renowned for being a hub for illegal tusks.

The ceremony, in which 2,155kg of raw tusks and carved trinkets were fed into an industrial rock crusher before being incinerated, was presided over by Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, and is the first time the kingdom has taken steps to destroy a part of its stockpile.

"This is to show the Thai government's strong determination to oppose ivory trafficking, and that Thailand will comply with international rules," he said during yesterday's ceremony.

Animal rights campaigners have long pushed for Bangkok to destroy its stockpile to signal its resolve to stamp down on the trade, and avoid the risk of seized ivory finding its way back onto the black market through corrupt officials.

Criminal gangs have sought to exploit a continued demand for tusks in Asia.

Ivory and other elephant body parts are prized for decoration as talismans and for use in traditional medicine across parts of Asia, with Thailand a key transit point.

Thailand's generals have vowed to crack down on the illegal trade. Earlier this year, they ordered all Thais to register any ivory they owned, warning those who failed to do so that they would see their items confiscated. They also made a series of high-profile seizures.

The ivory destroyed yesterday accounted for most of Thailand's stockpile, where criminal cases have been completed. A further 540kg has been donated to museums, government institutions and universities for education and to raise awareness.

In a case that highlighted another way elephants are being made use of in the country, an elephant in Chiang Mai went berserk and killed his keeper before running off with three terrified tourists still on his back, the police said.

The incident took place at 9.30am yesterday. A Chinese family of three was taking a ride on the back of a male elephant. The elephant had not taken easily to his new keeper and turned on him suddenly, goring him to death, Channel 3 reported.

TV broadcast footage also showed the three tourists being led back to camp, still on the elephant's back, once it had been calmed down.

Domestic elephants in Thailand have been used in the tourist trade since 1989. Animal rights groups have said that unscrupulous mahouts use controversial techniques to crush the animals' spirits or severely overwork them.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 27, 2015, with the headline 'Thailand destroys stockpile of illegal ivory'. Print Edition | Subscribe