In the past few years, Cites has lost the plot entirely on elephants. When it brings its convention to Bangkok, it wants to pass a treaty opening up the ivory trade again.
The plan was debated hotly last week at a preparatory meeting in Geneva. The discussion revolved around two competing ideas about ivory. One side held that the ivory trade is not just the greatest cause of elephant poaching, but the only important cause. In the past, the ivory trade was almost exclusively responsible for a fall in elephant populations worldwide, reaching near extinction in parts of Africa. This side wants to continue, but perhaps modify the worldwide ban on ivory.
The other, wrong side of this issue, unbelievably wants to resume the ivory trade. Their logic, if it can be called that, goes like this. There is a lot of ivory in warehouses worldwide that is illegal. The stockpile of ivory held in bond is increasing as tusks are harvested from dead elephants - only those that die from natural causes and old age of course. If this ivory were sold in a new, regulated worldwide market, it could raise millions. And that money could be used for more projects to save more endangered species.
It is such a precise, orderly and reasonable plan, one just knows it will go off the track quickly. There are the claims that a database of ivory stocks will be kept meticulously and no illegal ivory could be admitted. That would be like the world's medical supplies, where criminals never can plant counterfeit pills. Or currency, which is printed so carefully, under such heavy security, that no fake banknotes ever get moved.
The so-called secure database and legitimate ivory markings, like medicine and currency, will be invaded and attacked by criminals. That is a given. Poachers will shoot elephants, harvest the ivory and by a dozen different means will mix the illegal ivory with the legal variety.
They also will piggyback on Cites' legal ivory trade to mix up the market. Ivory smugglers, just like drug smugglers, have hundreds of methods to move, traffic and sell their tusks or ivory products.
Thailand is not only an elephant-friendly, elephant loving nation whose great beasts are being depleted by human encroachment. It also is one of the world centres of the illegal ivory trade. Tusks are smuggled into Thailand so that corrupt artists can fashion goods for onward sale to the greedy, uncaring self-styled connoisseurs of carved ivory.
When Cites comes to Bangkok, host Thailand should strive hard to defeat this plan to legalise the ivory trade. There must be increased enforcement of the law and border efforts to stop ivory trafficking. Adopting a plan to resume the ivory trade, no matter how well intentioned, is naive and will lead to further killing, endangerment and possible extinction of these wonderful animals.