Heat on ivory traders as big hotels under scrutiny


By Nirmal Ghosh

New Delhi, November 7, 2003: After letters were written earlier this year by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Switzerland to the headquarters of top hotel chains with units in Thailand, many fell into place and pressurized retail tenants to stop selling ivory.

But some did not.World Wildlife Fund Thailand’s country head Dr. Robert Mather, releasing the names of the non-compliant hotels on Wednesday night, said ”It has not yet sunk in that the profitability of the trade in wildlife products is second only to the profitability of the drug trade. In some cases hotel managers told us they could not control what retailers did.”

” I told them I didn’t buy that argument; if those retailers were selling drugs or underage prostitutes to hotel residents, they would certainly do something about it.”

Hotels in the capital that still allowed retailers on their premises to offer ivory items ‘ banned for export ‘ included two Amari units; the Ambassador, Asia Hotel, the Indra Regent, the Mandarin, Montien Riverside, Nana Hotel, Novotel Lotus, the Radisson, the Rama Garden, the Royal Princess Lan Luang and the Royal River hotel; Tawana Ramada; the Grand Bangkok; the Landmark; and the Maenum Riverside Hotel.

The number had gone down from 35 earlier this year, to 17, Dr Mather said.The ivory trade exploits loopholes in the law. Thailand’s 2,500 or so domestic elephants are listed as transport animals and it is legal to cut off their tusks and sell them. Tere have been cases of ivory gangs stunning domestic elephants with high voltage electric shocks and cutting off their tusks so close to the root that the elephants have eventually bled to death.

Wild elephants ‘ a mere 1500 or so with very few tuskers left ‘ are protected. Retailers usually encourage tourists to buy ivory saying it is legal or even if it is not it can easily be hidden. Technically, a tourist buying an ivory item and detected taking it out can be imprisoned for four years.

Retailers also claim ‘ falsely ‘ that all ivory is from domestic Thai elephants when the amount on sale at any given time far exceeds the potential yield from domestic elephants.

Therefore much of the ivory is from illegally slaughtered elephants in Thailand, elsewhere in Asia and mostly in Africa from where it is shipped to the far east, often first to carving centers like Thailand’s Nakhon Sawan district, and eventually to countries like Japan, China and Korea where ivory trinkets and chops knowns as hanko in Japan, are much in demand.

A survey last month revealed 5,355 pieces of ivory worth 11.6 million baht on sale in upscale shops in hotels in Bangkok ‘ and 13,612 pieces worth 78.6 million baht on sale outside hotels.

( A version of these reports appeared in The Straits Times, Nov 7, 2003 , also see www.indianjungles.com. Pictures : WWF Thailand)