Thailand’s government is at it again. Talking a ‘good game’ when it comes to stopping the thriving ivory trade in Thailand with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra this weekend vowing to end it and to go after wildlife traffickers in Thailand in a big way. Do I believe it? No.
Thailand has one of the world’s largest illegal wildlife trade. It has had for decades and every Thai government that has ended up in power has done little or nothing about it. Sure, they all talk and talk and tell western wildlife activists what they want to hear “We’ll protect the Thai elephant better”, “We’ll make sure we go after wildlife traffickers in Thailand”, “We’ll end the ivory trade in Thailand” but has anything come of it in the decade I’ve lived in Thailand? Little or nothing.
In fact, when I first moved to Thailand it was estimated there were around 4,000 Thai elephants left in the wild. Ten years later? Less than 2,500.
Most Thais for some bizarre reason don’t seem to value the incredible animal life they have in their country and certainly don’t protect the animals themselves. Most Thais I know don’t even think about it, and when you ask them why they don’t protect the Thai elephant, for instance, they just shrug.
To them, they don’t understand why developed countries value these animals so much or why they care what happens to them. When you have that kind of ill-informed uneducated mindset in the vast majority of Thais, which reaches all the way up to Thailand’s politicians, you’re fighting a lost cause.
Currently, of course, Thailand’s latest prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, is again talking about “ending the ivory trade in Thailand”. Why? Only because sanctions against Thailand are being threatened by other countries and because there’s a 178-nation Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species currently going on in Bangkok.
When the convention is over, wildlife activists leave Thailand and the threat of sanctions are not carried out, Yingluck Shinawatra has no more intention of stopping the ivory trade in Thailand than she does of resigning as Thai prime minister.
Why? She’s Thai and like most Thais says exactly what she thinks people want to hear at any given moment in time. Non-Thais don’t understand this, so take what she says at face value. Actually following through on what she says, however, as anyone will tell you who has spent time in Thailand, that in itself is a completely different matter. In fact, it rarely happens.