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Thai Prime Minister Must Seize Spotlight to End Ivory Trade

Washington, DC - As host of a critical wildlife trade meeting opening, WWF and TRAFFIC urge the Thai prime minister to ban ivory trade in the country when she addresses world governments Sunday.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is expected to make the opening speech for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) taking place in Bangkok next week. This key moment will set the tone for the negotiation.

Her speech comes at the same time that more than a million people from across the world, led by WWF and Avaaz, are petitioning for a ban on the trading of ivory in Thailand. Earlier this week, the prime minister said she would take the petition “into consideration”.

Thailand is one of the world’s largest unregulated markets for ivory. A decisive call for legal reforms from the prime minister would put a major dent in the global illicit trafficking of ivory.

“This is an opportunity for Prime Minister Shinawatra to help stem the global poaching crisis and to demonstrate Thailand’s leadership in combating wildlife crime,” said Steven Broad, Executive Director of TRAFFIC. “A ban on the trade of ivory would choke off Thailand’s ivory markets.”

“After years of failing to end this unfettered trade, Thailand should grab the spotlight and shut down these markets that are fuelling poaching of elephants in Africa. This would allow the country to avoid trade sanctions at CITES,” said Carlos Drews, Director of WWF’s Global Species Programme.

The call for the ban on ivory trade in Thailand comes as WWF and TRAFFIC are asking CITES governments to sanction countries fuelling the global illegal wildlife trade. Poaching has escalated to crisis levels in recent years, and is a major threat to iconic species such as elephants, rhinos and tigers. The countries most implicated in illegal ivory trade include Thailand, Nigeria and Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

“Thailand can continue to be one of the worst offenders or become a champion for conservation and the rule of law,” Drews said.

Thailand, Nigeria and DRC have failed repeatedly to address their rampant domestic ivory markets despite CITES rules that outlaw the unregulated sale of ivory. Under treaty rules, CITES member states can recommend that parties stop trading with non-compliant countries in the 35,000 species covered under the convention, from timbers to crocodile skins.

In Thailand, criminals are taking advantage of Thai laws allowing the sale of ivory from domestic elephants to launder massive quantities of illegal African ivory through Thai shops. Much of this ivory is purchased by foreign tourists.