As the campaign team of WWF Thailand, we are proud to be part of the global effort to combat the issue of wildlife trafficking – in particular the illegal ivory trade. The elephant is the national animal of Thailand and during the era of King Rama V, the elephant also was on Thailand’s national flag. Elephants have fought through wars with our kings and we as Thai people feel a personal connection to the Elephant since childhood. Almost the very first song Thai children learn is the ‘elephant song’ which is as common as the ‘alphabet song’ in English.
All these connections between the Thai people and elephants makes us so used to seeing the elephant to an extent we don’t realise. The feeling of an emerging threat of extinction that’s upon these species due to poaching, is very strong.
Driven by capitalism, elephants are poached and trinkets still continue to be a hit in the consumer market. Among the challenges we face within the campaign to stop the illegal wildlife trade is to raise awareness and educate the Thai public that:
- Almost all the ivory products selling in the market are a result of the massacre of African elephants and are rarely made of tusks from natural dead elephants in Thailand
- An adult elephant’s tusks do not grow back
- Elephants are a world heritage for all of us – regardless of a countries territory and nations
- An individual purchase contributes to fueling cross-continent transnational crime.
The misunderstanding and lack of information within the public needs to be addressed. The smuggling ring operation is beyond people’s awareness, as it’s difficult to believe that a gigantic species can be a victim to mass slaughtering and then have their ivory tusks smuggled – crossing many borders and countries until the end form of the blood ivory is as a trinket in the Thai market.
Besides educating people, we are also informing the public that the elephant they love cannot protect itself from war and weapons of criminal groups. We – the humans – must protect them and be the voices for the unheard trumpets. The easiest way to do that is to spread the word and beg the people to stop buying wildlife products and write to their government urging to take serious action.
Apart from sharing information via the media, the campaign also engages with the Buddhist community via leading Buddhist monks. According to Buddhism, killing is a sin. Consuming goods or products that deprive a living being of it’s life – regardless of whether it’s human or animal – does not align with the Buddhist teaching either.
The myths and malpractices surrounding ivory have to be eliminated from people’s mindsets and this will eventually happen over the course of time and repetitive messaging. Working with the government is another challenge that we face. The culture of government partnerships with non-Governmental organisations (NGO’s) in Thailand is still at an early stage of development.
As the campaign team, we are working with the government and together learning and growing our relationship for the best interest of Thailand and elephants of the world. The process of amending national legislation to impose an ivory ban is complicated and a long way to go – especially in the current political turbulence. Continuing to mobilise public support is as essential as political will of the relevant government agencies.
There needs to be a serious dialogue at the source point, at transit and through demand in countries, on collaboration in ending wildlife crime. Capacity building for law enforcement and demand reduction campaigns need consistent support from both the public and the government.
Although the situation is critical, we are hopeful for success with the public and international communities’ dynamic support. At the end of the day, our aim is to ensure the public care more about the true ecstatic value they have been desperate for – reconnecting you with the touch of nature. Your expression of love and compassion toward elephants will be real like the living, breathing, walking elephant – rather than its trinket.
This blog was written by Janpai Ongsiriwittaya – Wildlife Trade Campaign Manager, WWF Thailand.
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