CHIANG RAI – Thailand’s elephant tourism is fueling an illegal trade in the animals from Myanmar and putting the country’s wild elephant population at risk, according to a new report.
Wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC found that around 60 wild elephants had been captured and sold in Thailand during monitoring periods from April to November 2011 and from April 2012 to March 2013.
“The capture of wild elephants in Myanmar for Thailand’s tourism industry poses a serious threat to the future survival of the country’s wild population,” the report said.
The elephants are captured in Myanmar using pit traps, which are large ditches dug into the ground. Wild elephants are corralled into the pit using domesticated elephants.
The animals are then transported to areas along with Myanmar-Thailand border where they are prepared for working before being sold in Thailand.
Baby elephants are sold for between US$21,500 and $30,500, which represents a threefold increase on what they were being sold for 15 years ago, the report said.
A crackdown launched by Thai authorities in February 2012 has had a major impact in stemming the illegal trade but experts are warning there is a risk of a resurgence unless laws are introduced to tackle the problem.
“Thailand’s action have caused the illegal trade in live elephants from Myanmar to halt, but unless urgent changes are made to outdated legislation and better systems are introduced to document the origin of elephants in tourists camps and other locations across Thailand things could quickly revert to their previous unacceptable state,” said Chris Shepherd, TRAFFIC’s regional director for Southeast Asia.
Joanna Cary-Elwes, the campaigns manager at elephant protection organisation Elephant Family, said that under Thailand’s current laws domestic and wild and domesticated elephants are treated differently, leaving loopholes that can be exploited by traders.
“There are gaping holes in the current legislation, Ms Cary-Elwes said, “which do little to deter unscrupulous operators passing off wild-caught young animals as being of captive origin and falsifying birth and ownership documentation.”