July 7, 2014
Legislative Measures Needed To Keep Illegal Wild Elephant Trade At Bay
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
In recent years, legislation passed in Thailand has successfully cracked down on the illegal elephant trade, but a new report from the conservation organization TRAFFIC has suggested that more legislation and measures are needed to further reduce the threat to elephants.
The new report said that many elephants are captured in neighboring Myanmar, brutally tamed, and then smuggled across the border into Thailand, where they are used to entertain tourists. TRAFFIC said the practice seriously threatens the region’s elephant population and could have other larger ecosystem effects.
"Thailand's actions have caused the illegal trade in live elephants from Myanmar to halt, but unless urgent changes are made to outdated legislation and better systems are introduced to document the origin of elephants in tourists camps and other locations across Thailand things could quickly revert to their previous unacceptable state," said Chris Shepherd, TRAFFIC's Regional Director for South-East Asia.
The organization conducted an assessment of the live elephant trade in Thailand that included information on between 79 and 81 animals captured illegally between April 2011 and March 2013. At the very least, 60 percent of the animals trafficked came from Myanmar where the seizure of elephants is recognized as a severe threat to the future survival of that country's wild population of about 4,000 to 5,000 Asian elephants.
To capture wild elephants Myanmar traffickers use domesticated elephants to corral the animals into pit-traps in which older protecting members of herds are often slaughtered and the greater value, younger animals are then taken. The young are then transferred to Thai-Myanmar border areas and broken down in preparation for their training in the Thai tourism industry.
A 2012 crack down by the Thai government helped to curb illegal practices, but smugglers have since taken advantage of gaps in the legislation to continue to ply their trade. One of the many loopholes pointed out by the new report is the fact that elephants in Thailand don’t have to be registered until they are 8 years old.
"There are gaping holes in the current legislation, which do little to deter unscrupulous operators passing off wild-caught young animals as being of captive origin and falsifying birth and ownership documentation," said Joanna Cary-Elwes, a campaign manager at the advocacy group Elephant Family.
"We have information that dealers on the Myanmar side of the border are holding elephants, waiting for enforcement vigilance to be relaxed," Shepherd told Matt McGrath of BBC News. "Wildlife in Myanmar is being completely hammered, by habitat loss but also by the trade. Borders are extremely porous, wildlife is being taken across all the time."
Shepard went on to say that the treatment of young elephants in clandestine areas along the Thailand-Myanmar border is particularly cruel.
"They are put in small log boxes and just beaten into submission," he said. "They are a bit like a light switch - you take a wild elephant and beat it long enough and suddenly the switch goes off and you have a tame elephant.
"The welfare implications are horrendous - it is a cruel business,” he added.
The new report comes as a meeting of government representatives to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) takes place. In addition to discussing the illegal elephant trade, the meeting is also expected to address loopholes in Thailand laws regarding the ivory trade.
"All eyes will be on Thailand at this week's CITES meeting to see what they are doing to address these critically important issues,” said Cary-Elwes. “The Asian Elephant is the forgotten elephant; it needs government support now more than ever. If the capture and smuggling of calves is not stopped, some of the last great wild populations of the species are at risk of extinction."
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