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Thailand must act to prevent resurgence of illegal wild elephant trade

Thailand must act to prevent resurgence of illegal wild elephant trade

Wild live elephants are being illegally captured to supply the lucrative tourism industry in Thailand and urgent changes to the country’s legislation and elephant registration procedures are needed to stop the trafficking, finds a new report released today.

An assessment of the live elephant trade in Thailand provides details of between 79 and 81 wild elephants illegally captured for sale into the tourist industry in Thailand between April 2011 and March 2013. 

At least 60% of the animals trafficked originated in Myanmar where the capture of elephants is considered a serious threat to the future survival of that country’s wild population of around 4,000–5,000 Asian Elephants.

In Myanmar, domesticated elephants are used to corral wild animals into pit-traps where older protective members of herds are often killed and the higher value, younger animals taken. The young are then transported to Thai—Myanmar border areas and then mentally broken and prepared for training before being sold into the tourism industry in Thailand where they are put to work at tourist camps or hotels.

A Thai government-led clampdown against the trade began in February 2012 which examined the authenticity of the origin and ownership documentation of elephants held in captivity, but was not backed up with the necessary legislative changes to consolidate any gains made. 

“Thailand’s action have caused the illegal trade in live elephants from Myanmar to halt, but unless urgent changes are made to outdated legislation and better systems are introduced to document the origin of elephants in tourists camps and other locations across Thailand things could quickly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 Dr Chris Shepherd, TRAFFIC’s Regional Director for South-East Asia.

The report recommends urgent reforms so wild and domesticated animals are governed under one law with an emphasis on clarifying responsibilities for management, enforcement, co-ordination and oversight, as well as simplification of the ownership and registration of live elephants, including mandatory DNA registration and use of microchips.

This week, an intercessional meeting of government representatives to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) takes place where a discussion on the trade in live elephants will be on the agenda and the decision making body has the authority to instruct implicated countries to take decisive action against the trade.

Also on the agenda will be progress made by a number of countries, including Thailand, in implementing their Ivory Action Plans to address illegal trade in elephant ivory. The current 75-year old Thai legislation allows ivory from domesticated Thai elephants to be used legally, which has created a loophole whereby illegal ivory from Africa is laundered into the marketplace.

“Thailand’s legislation concerning ivory and the ownership of elephants is out-of-date and inadequate,” said Joanna Cary-Elwes.

“All eyes will be on Thailand at this week’s CITES meeting to see what they are doing to address these critically important issues. 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.”

An Assessment of the live elephant trade in Thailand was prepared by TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, on behalf of Elephant Family, an organization dedicated to the conservation of Asian Elephants. 

The report details the current legislation concerning live elephants in Thailand with different laws governing the status of animals from wild and domestic origin and young animals only needing to be registered once they reach eight years of age.

“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, Campaigns Manager, Elephant Family.

Penalties for those transgressing the law are also low, with the report describing them as “woefully insufficient to act as a deterrent to elephant traffickers.”

Confiscations of elephants in Thailand increased from single individuals in the period 2009 to 2011, to 34 animals in 2012 and 22 more in the first nine months of 2013. The animals were seized as part of the government clampdown although it is unclear how many prosecutions of owners of animals illegally held has subsequently taken place. 

written by Elephant Family on 08 July 14

Tags: Live Trade, Baby Elephant Smuggling, CITES, Thailand

A New Network of Elephant Champions Created in Odisha

A New Network of Elephant Champions Created in Odisha

Elephant Family and our partners in India made significant progress in protecting Odisha’s elephants last week, by initiating a network of elephant champions across the state. This network will promote elephant conservation through their communities, and engage them in protecting elephants against numerous threats, from poaching to falling into open wells.

Odisha’s beleaguered elephants are the least protected in India, despite the Indian Government identifying the wider region as one of the highest priority elephant landscapes in the country. The state’s people are among the poorest in India, and are heavily dependent on farming. However, Odisha is also fast developing and its rich natural mineral wealth has encouraged rapid industrialisation over the past 10 years, resulting in the equally rapid destruction of elephant habitat, which is now among the most fragmented and degraded in the country. Elephants have been forced into human settlements in the quest for food and water, creating conflict that is claiming the lives of both people and elephants. Last month we reported how this has also led to a worrying increase in elephants falling into open wells in villages.

Following in Mark Shand’s footsteps

Odisha and its elephants have always held great significance for Elephant Family, one that it is now more poignant than ever. For it was here in the late 1980s that Mark Shand began his journey with his beloved elephant Tara, which led to him being such a crusader for Asian elephants with Elephant Family. Right up until his untimely death earlier this month, Mark had been campaigning hard to protect Odisha’s elephants from being electrocuted by poorly-maintained power lines, and things like that. 

Working with local communities

Whether it is tackling human-elephant conflict, saving elephants from wells and low-hanging power lines, or stopping the poaching that has recently returned to the state, the support and involvement of the local communities in Odisha is essential. Our small project team visits the villages within the elephants’ range as often as they can to speak to the communities about the movement of elephants, collect information on threats, and create a greater understanding of the importance of elephants to the area and their behaviour.  With donations received in response to our recent appeals, such visits have intensified in recent months to those areas where poaching has occurred and where open wells present a considerable danger to elephants.

Bringing representatives together and creating a network 

Nevertheless, our team’s reach can only extend so far when trying to cover vast distances. With the recent support we’ve received, they therefore also organised a workshop last weekend, to bring together wildlife conservationists, forest protection communities, youth leaders from local conservation groups and wildlife wardens from conflict areas. This took place on 3rd May in the state capital Bhubaneswar, with 24 participants representing 13 of the elephant-bearing districts within the state. The meeting was called Gajah Bandhu, which means “Elephant’s Friend”, and included presentations from Suresh Mohanty, a former Chief Wildlife Warden of Odisha, as well as from our project team: Biswajit Mohanty of the Wildlife Society of Odisha (pictured), and Ranjit Patnaik, Elephant Family’s project coordinator with the Wildlife Protection Society of India.

In the discussions that followed, participants explained the problems that both elephants and their communities face in their areas. These have formed the basis of a set of recommendations that will guide the work of both the Forest Department and our project team towards better protection of elephants throughout the state.

A key finding was the lack of knowledge regarding compassionate payments that families are entitled to for crop damage or even the loss of a family member to elephants. Such payments can bring a great deal of relief to frustrated farmers, making them more receptive to conservation initiatives, and improving their tolerance of elephants. We have been helping such farmers to file claims to good effect in one of the most troubled districts, and through the new “Elephant Friends” from the workshop, we can now reach out to so many more.

Most importantly, the workshop established a network of these Elephant Friends or champions, who are committed to protecting elephants with coverage over much of the state. Through them and the support of their communities, our project team can follow the movements of elephants and threats to them as they happen, and then act swiftly.

The workshop had begun with a tribute to Mark and it is through our teams and local communities in Asia that we continue to build on all that he achieved for Asian elephants.  

written by Dan Bucknell on 08 May 14

Tags: Mark Shand, Odisha, wells, Wildlife Protection Society of India, Wildlife Society of Odisha

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