BANGKOK - Thailand's government has failed to crack down on one of the world's largest markets of illegal ivory, allowing vendors to openly sell products that come from African elephants, a conservation group said in a report released Friday.
The group TRAFFIC, which monitors trade in wildlife, said that judging by recent seizures of ivory imports and exports and several surveys it has done since 2006, Thailand has surpassed traditional hotspots like Japan and China.
Hundreds of venues from five-star hotels to the popular Chatuchak weekend market in the capital, Bangkok were found to be selling tens of thousands of items, from pricey carvings of religious deities to cheaper bangles, belt buckles and knife handles.
Much of the illegal ivory is smuggled from central African countries to workshops outside Bangkok, the British-based conservation group said. Merchants in the capital and to a lesser degree tourist cities like Chiang Mai sell the ivory products to locals as well as foreign tourists, benefiting from loopholes in current laws that make it hard to crack down on the trade.
Some of the items are also exported to markets in Europe and the United States.
"Thailand has consistently been identified as one of the world's top five countries most heavily implicated in the illicit ivory trade, but shows little sign of addressing outstanding issues," said Tom Milliken, of TRAFFIC, which oversees a global monitoring program, Elephant Trade Information.
TRAFFIC recommended that Thailand boost its regulation of the domestic ivory market, and amend a law that allows sales of domestic ivory. It also called on the government to streamline often-conflicting legislation related to the trade and to train Thai Customs officials in identifying illegal ivory.
Shops or stalls selling ivory products in Bangkok are widespread. A visit to River City mall, a popular haunt of tourists and antique collectors, turned up 10 shops selling ivory carvings, necklaces or cigarette holders. All the merchants interviewed insisted their ivory came from Thailand or Myanmar, a claim disputed by Milliken who said the region doesn't have enough elephants to support the industry.
Thailand is a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, which banned trade in ivory in 1989 after a wholesale slaughter of African elephants by poachers in the 1970s and 1980s. But Thailand, unlike China and Japan, has done little to enforce the trade ban.