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New Report Finds Massive Growth in World’s Largest Unregulated Elephant Ivory Market

Washington, D.C., July 2, 2014 – A new report has found an alarmingly steep increase in the number of retailers selling elephant ivory in Thailand – with the number of ivory items for sale nearly tripling in the past 18 months in what is already the world’s largest unregulated ivory market.

Released today, the finding cited in a report from TRAFFIC, “Polishing off the Ivory: Surveys of Thailand’s Ivory Market”, details the rapid expansion of ivory sales since 2013 in the country. The report cites surveys of known ivory retail outlets that found:

• In January 2013, 61 retail outlets were found selling ivory in previously identified locations around Bangkok. By May 2014, there were 120 retail outlets in the same locations.

• From January to December 2013, the number of individual ivory pieces increased almost three-fold, from 5,865 to 14,512, exceeding what could be produced by ivory acquired legally.

Just last year, Thailand had pledged to start a legislative process to end its ivory trade when the country hosted a global meeting of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). The TRAFFIC report was released just days ahead of another crucial CITES meeting, where Thailand will be asked to outline how it has implemented a national ivory action plan it submitted to the Convention last year.

“Thailand has had more than 20 years to do the right thing and close legal loopholes to shut down the illegal elephant ivory trade,” said Crawford Allan, senior director, TRAFFIC. “Organized crime groups smuggled more than 40 tons of illegal ivory from Africa into Asian markets in 2013, and the Thai loophole in the law is the perfect cover to trade that ivory without fear of reprisal.”

Allan concluded, “Tourism in Thailand is also contributing to the challenge, as tourists – including Americans – have little clue that the open Thai markets selling ivory souvenirs are a cover for a dark secret linked to organized crime and an elephant poaching crisis.”

Thailand’s problem with illegal ivory trade is partially attributed to a law that permits the legal trade of ivory from domesticated elephants in Thailand, such as tusks from elephants that die naturally or trimmings of the tusks of captive elephants. However, a lack of a registration system creates a loophole for ivory from illegal sources to enter the market. The report documents the amount of ivory for sale in Thailand exceeds the amount that could come from domestic elephants.

Further evidence of the illegal origin of the ivory for sale comes from a number of large-scale seizures of African-sourced ivory heading to or seized in Thailand in recent years. Since 2008, over 13 tons of African elephant ivory have been seized in such transactions.

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