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Images of elephants are ubiquitous in Thai culture, visible on flags, temples, sports mascots, and tourist souvenirs. The pachyderms are even part of the alphabet: The Thai consonant “Chor” (?) is the first letter in the Thai word for elephant (“Chang”), and it’s commonly called “Chor Chang.” This year, thousands of Thai citizens used that letter to condemn the illegal ivory trade—by erasing it from their names.
To encourage the Thai government to take bolder action against ivory trafficking, WWF-Thailand asked Thai citizens to show their support for elephants by publicly removing the letter Chor Chang from their names and sharing that symbolic action on social media.
Inspired by the campaign, one man voluntarily created a web application that lets users type their name into a box, then automatically removes the Chor Chang letter from the text and generates an internet meme that can be shared on social media. More than 70,000 people have used it so far.
In early 2015, Thailand’s government faced a stiff deadline: Take bigger steps to crack down on illegal ivory within its borders by March 31, or face global trade sanctions that could cost the country up to $300 million under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
WWF will now work with the Thai government on the specifics of implementing the national ivory action plan and on ensuring that it will work in practice.
Thailand has the world’s second-largest market for illegal ivory. A recent study—funded by Thailand’s Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation; WWF; and TRAFFIC—tested the DNA of 160 ivory products purchased from Thai shops; the majority were illegal African ivory rather than legal domestic ivory. The sad corollary? More than 30,000 African elephants are killed each year for their tusks.
The Chor Chang campaign brought international attention to Thailand’s illegal ivory crisis and added worldwide citizen pressure to the official demands for change by CITES. In response, the Thai government took action, creating a revised national ivory action plan, banning all trade and sale of ivory from African elephants, and passing a tighter law for regulating the trade of legal ivory. When he introduced the National Elephant Ivory Act, Thailand’s prime minister, General Prayuth, noted the campaign’s influence.