Environmental NGO, Save the Elephants, has released a research report on the seriousness of ivory trade in Laos recently. According to this report, Laos has become the fastest growing ivory market worldwide. The brutal illegal ivory trade in Southeast and East Asia has involved multiple countries, including Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and China. China is currently the biggest ivory buyer, and due to different intricate factors, the campaign to protect elephants still has a long way to go.
In order to protect the environment, the Chinese government announced earlier this year that China would enforce the ivory ban nationwide in 2017. This measure has received applause from environmental NGOs. According to the Guardian, President and Founder of Save the Elephants Iain Douglas-Hamilton commented, “We must give credit to China for having done the right thing by closing the ivory trade. There is now greater hope for the species.” Following the announcement, however, there has been a sharp price drop in China’s ivory market, which may have stimulated the market demand for ivory. In addition, different news reports have shown that although the legal ivory market will be prohibited in China, the illegal ivory trade continues to be a huge problem for the government.
Although China has made the decision to ban ivory trade, peripheral countries have become alternative locations for illegal ivory trade. According to the The Telegraph, Campaign Director of Environmental Investigation Agency Julian Newman said, “Laos has emerged as a safe haven for wildlife criminals, as international syndicates seek weak spots where enforcement is poor and corruption thrives.” As Lucy Vigne, one of the report’s authors told BBC, “With a lack of strong and continuing international pressure to curtail the trade in ivory in Laos and a lack of interest by the Laotian government, there has been a significant and relatively sudden growth in the ivory trade [in Laos].” Without the powerful international and regional environmental rights protection mechanism, the Laotian government doesn’t have enough incentive to take measures and restrict the illegal ivory trade within the country.
Ivory is exported from Africa to different Southeast Asian countries, and products eventually flow to China. The complexity of the ivory trade in Southeast Asia indicates the difficulty for local governance on this issue. As Vientiane Times commented, “While governments in the region have provided a political voice to combating wildlife trafficking networks, this is yet to translate on the ground and trafficking networks continue unabated.” The key is to figure out how to strictly follow environmental treaties and laws to prohibit ivory trade, especially across the border. It is up to the government and policy makers to deal with these problems.
Though the measures taken by the government are extremely important, public awareness of ivory trade and environmental protection should also be used as complementary methods. In China, there are still large groups of people who believe that ivory has supreme medical value. Education on environmental protection and a sense of responsibility should be strengthened in China, especially among younger generations. It may be hard, however, to educate senior citizens to abandon their old, environmentally unfriendly beliefs, which is also a difficult topic for environmental NGOs.