BANGKOK (AP) — Efforts by Thailand's government to curb sales of ivory have been successful following criticism of widespread trafficking in the country, police and conservationists said.
Police announced Friday that since January, officials have seized two elephant tusks and 422 tusk fragments in a single case, while in all of last year they seized 99 tusks and 22 fragments. Deputy Police Commissioner Gen. Chalermkiat Sriworakhan said the drop in the number of cases showed that strict enforcement had deterred traffickers.
"We have made serious efforts to block elephant ivory from being smuggled into the country and sent on to another country," Chalermkiat said, referring to past smuggling schemes. Now, "if they do get in the country, we do not let them leave."
Thailand had been considered to have the largest unregulated ivory market in the world before it introduced the Elephant Ivory Act in 2014 and 2015 to regulate the domestic ivory market and criminalize the sale of African elephant ivory.
"We have been able to effectively arrest more and more suspects with tangible results," said Chalermkiat.
The wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC praised Thailand for a large drop in sales of ivory items. Its survey of Bangkok markets found a decline in the amount of ivory openly for sale from a high of 7,421 items in 2014 to 283 products in June 2016.
Measured over a slightly longer period of time, the drop was even more dramatic. In December 2013, the number of ivory items on sale was 14,512, according to earlier surveys by TRAFFIC.
"Thailand's legal reforms have paved the way for greater control of the domestic ivory market and it's certainly something other countries in the region should emulate, especially Laos, Vietnam, and Myanmar," Kanitha Krishnasamy, acting regional director for TRAFFIC in Southeast Asia, said in an email Friday.
"Further to these efforts, it's important also to test products in the market to ensure that no African elephant ivory is in the marketplace."
Poachers have killed tens of thousands of African elephants for their tusks to meet demand for ivory in Asia, putting the species at great risk. Thailand became a major transit hub and destination for smuggled tusks, which are often carved into tourist trinkets and ornaments. The biggest demand comes from China.
Krishnasamy said illegal online trade is another part of the problem affecting Thailand.
"Monitoring and enforcement of trade taking place online is extremely crucial to make sure that ivory items not on sale in the physical market haven't moved online," she said.