Elephants get a break as Cites opens in Bangkok

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African elephants (photo copyright 2013 CITES / Peter Dollinger)

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – The Cites meeting to review the state of the world’s endangered species opened this weekend in Bangkok, Thailand, with a promise from the country’s foreign minister that trading in ivory in the country would be brought to a halt.

Thailand’s laws allow some trade but it is also a centre for illegal trade in elephant ivory, which was outlawed internationally in 1989. Very small amounts of existing ivory stocks are allowed to be sold at rare auctions.

Conservationists estimate that 25,000 elephants are killed annually, most of them African elephants. Since 1979 the world’s elephant population has dwindled from 1.3 million to 400,000 or less, according to Cites (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species).

The rate of elephant poaching for the tusks has risen dramatically in the past decade, however, and the Cites meeting is considering ways to take more effective action to stop it.

Carter Roberts, chief executive of Geneva-based WWF, which is pushing for greater protection of elephants, said after the weekend announcement by the Thai government, that a time frame must be established for ending the country’s trade. “We hope, and expect, that this commitment will curb poaching of African elephants by closing a major global loophole. Americans and other tourists must continue to educate themselves on what not to buy while traveling so that they are not unknowingly contributing to this illicit industry.”

Poachers are not the only human-caused problem elephants are facing. This week four rare pygmy elephants were found dead in Malaysia, apparently poisoned accidentally by oil palm anti-pest poison used by plantation workers, reports Aljazeera, which says this brings the number killed to 14, with more likely to be found.

Ed. note: Cites is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year; the UN Postal Service has just issued a commemorative stamp.

Background: 7 fact sheets from the Amboselli Trust for Elephants on survival of elephants and the illegal trade in ivory

More on the African elephant, from WWF