BANGKOK (14 June 2016) — International martial arts actor Tony Jaa (Furious 7, Ong-Bak 3) and Thai National Football Team Coach “Zico” Kiatisuk Senamuang will lead an all-star team of celebrity ambassadors calling for an end to Thailand’s ivory trade, one of the world’s largest.
The new campaign, created by WildAid and WWF-Thailand and launched Monday, highlights the impact of the Thai ivory trade on elephant poaching in Africa, where an estimated 33,000 elephants are killed each year for their tusks. Public service announcements and print billboards will be widely distributed throughout the country, from BTS SkyTrain stations in Bangkok to several national TV channels and multiple social media platforms. This PSA below starring Tony Jaa was produced by WildAid with the support of WWF, African Wildlife Foundation and Save the Elephants.
The ivory trade has been banned in the United States, and proposed bans in China and Hong Kong are in motion, leaving Thailand alongside Japan as the largest remaining markets. Thailand also plays a key role as a transit point for smuggled ivory: Current Thai law allows trading of ivory from domesticated Thai elephants, but conservationists are concerned that illegal African ivory is laundered through this loophole.
Thailand made several major illegal ivory seizures last year: Since October 2015, Thai customs has made four seizures of ivory originating from Africa, totaling more than 800 kilograms. The latest seizure in April 2016 was more than 300 kilograms.
“With historic announcements from the US, China and Hong Kong to shut down their ivory markets, the time has come for Thailand to join the herd and do its part to save Africa’s elephants,” said WildAid CEO Peter Knights.
According to a 2015 national survey by WildAid, African Wildlife Foundation and Save the Elephants, only about half of the Thai population (52%) is aware of the elephant poaching crisis in Africa, with a similar percentage aware that Thailand is one of the world’s primary destinations for smuggled ivory (51%). (Click here for full a PDF of the full study.)
Tony Jaa, who has appeared on-screen alongside Hollywood stars including Vin Diesel, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Jason Statham, grew up in Thailand’s northeastern province of Surin, where his family raised domesticated elephants.
“Some people believe that ivory products can bring you power and good luck protecting you from evil,” Jaa said. “But what they don’t know is that the majority of ivory in the Asian market today comes from African elephants that are brutally slaughtered, left lifeless and powerless. Remember, when you buy ivory, you could be paying to kill elephants. Please go ivory free.”
Joining Coach Zico are two rising national football players: “Messi Jay” Chanathip Songkrasin and “Kong” Kroekrit Thawikan. Together they star in an upcoming campaign ad calling on Thais to save elephants with “Chang Seuk” (“The War Elephants”), the nickname widely known for the Thai National Football team.
Coach Zico said of the new campaign: “The elephant is the symbol of the Thai National football team, and I believe Thais are willing to help save elephants. Some people still believe in the magical power of ivory, but on the field, nothing can bring us victory except practice and hard work.”
Since 2012, WWF-Thailand has been advocating for the Thai government to end the illegal ivory trade as a part of WWF’s global campaign. “A year has passed since the ivory regulations were introduced, yet it is difficult to prove whether Thailand’s effort to regulate the ivory market is efficient and working. It is time Thailand reconsiders its standpoint and moves toward phasing out the illegal ivory trade to the point that it completely halts the domestic ivory trade.” Said Janpai Ongsiriwittaya, policy advocacy specialist and campaign manager, WWF-Thailand.
The Royal Thai Government has taken recent actions to regulate and control ivory trading and possession by passing the new Elephant Ivory Act in 2015, making African elephants a protected species, and further demonstrated its dedication to ending the illegal trade by destroying over 2 tons of confiscated ivory in August 2015.
The Ivory Free-Thailand campaign’s objectives are to urge Thais never to buy, sell or accept ivory as a gift; and to push for stricter law enforcement and actions to end the illegal ivory trade.
“Thais might not be the main buyers of ivory, but we need to raise awareness that the ivory trade in Thailand supports the killing of elephants in Africa,” said John Baker, Managing Director of WildAid.