Thailand vows to end ivory trade
Thailand's prime minister, facing the possibility of sanctions, has vowed for the first time to work towards ending the country's trade in ivory.
But Yingluck Shinawatra gave no timeline for implementing a domestic ban and conservationists warned that the unprecedented slaughter of elephants in Africa would continue.
Thailand's internal ivory trade is currently legal, but wildlife groups say smuggled African tusks are mixed in with native stocks and sky-rocketing demand in Thailand is helping fuel the worst poaching crisis in sub-Saharan African in 20 years.
Ms Yingluck made the pledge during the opening meeting of the 178-nation Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Bangkok.
She said her government would tighten controls on Thailand's local tusk trade by systematically registering domestic elephants and ivory products. Then, "as a next step, we will work towards amending the national legislation with the goal of putting an end to (the) ivory trade and to be in line with international norms", she said.
But there was no timeline and Theerapat Prayurasiddhi, deputy director of Thailand's department of parks and wildlife, said there were no immediate plans for a domestic ban.
He said that could happen "step by step in the future - maybe", but called it "the long-term goal". For now, the government will focus on boosting measures to tighten domestic trade controls and slow the flow of African ivory from entering Thai markets.
Thai traders currently have the right to buy or sell ivory obtained legally from domesticated stocks, and Mr Theerapat said taking those rights away could be tantamount to the struggle to ban assault weapons in the United States.
"You cannot change everything overnight," he said. "It's going to take time."
Asked how Thailand's legislation might be amended, he said there was a push to add African elephants to Thailand's own lists of protected species, a move that would allow authorities to impose higher fines and harsher jail terms on smugglers.