Officials on Tuesday confiscated more than 300kg of elephant tusks from Malawi at Suvarnabhumi airport and arrested a Gambian national on charges of ivory smuggling and violating customs laws.
The seizure was announced Tuesday by the Customs Department, the Department of National Parks Wildlife and Plant Conservation, and police. The tusks, 422 individual pieces worth about 17 million baht, were seized at the airport on Sunday after customs officials became suspicious of two shipments arriving via Ethiopian Airlines.
Officials became suspicious because the flights originated at Lilongwe airport in Malawi, a southern African country that has previously been identified as a key transit route and distribution hub for illegal ivory.
Smugglers usually hide contraband items among other goods. The shipments were scanned and officials found what looked like elephant tusks hidden among stones.
When a Gambian national showed up at the airport on Sunday to claim the cargo, the authorities asked him to open the containers. They found stones and the tusks weighing 330kg.
The man was charged with smuggling wildlife under the wildlife protection law and importing prohibited products under the customs law. The suspect has lived in Thailand for 15 years and he has a Thai wife and three children.
The Customs Department said onTuesday that Thailand remains a hub for illegal African ivory smuggling despite concerted efforts to combat the trade.
Smugglers are willing to take the risk of shipping the ivory to Thailand to be carved which will increase the product value significantly. Thailand is known for its ivory craftsmanship.
The department has been working with authorities to stop the illegal ivory trade — a commitment the government has made to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
According to the department’s records, from 2015 to the present, 24 people have been arrested and 3,027 elephant tusks weighing over 7 tonnes seized.
These are worrying statistics as who knows how much ivory has got through without being detected. The numbers of African elephants are decreasing rapidly and authorities in several African countries are waging a losing war against poachers.
The potential financial gains are huge and at the end of the day, it is not the poachers who are the real enemy. They have families to feed and they cannot earn anywhere near as much money doing “regular” jobs.
The real guilty ones are the consumers. If everyone simply stopped buying and collecting ivory products, the trade would cease to exist. It is illegal to possess ivory items that have been carved after 1947 but sadly that is not deterring thousands of collectors.