As part of efforts to reduce the use of amulets made from endangered elephants and tigers, WildAid, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Thailand’s Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) are launching a campaign called “A good life is free of killing” featuring spiritual and key opinion leaders. In a video, the Venerable Phramedhivajirodom (V.Vajiramedhi), a highly respected Thai Buddhist monk, actress “Top” Daraneenute Pasutanavin, and Thai actor and director Bhin Banloerit, call on the public to avoid using “good luck charms” made from threatened wildlife for those that may otherwise use them in their spiritual practices.
“How can amulets that come from taking another being’s life be considered as auspicious or a source of good karma?” asks the Venerable Phramedhivajirodom who also founded Cherntawan International Meditation Center, Chiangrai. “Good actions and hard work are the only things that define our fate. As Buddhists, we must not confuse our faith by relying on products made from wildlife.”
The new campaign amplifies prominent voices to show the Thai public that spiritual beliefs do not have to play a role in the demand for products from trafficked wildlife.
“In the past, I was a consumer of wildlife products, but in time I realized they do not benefit me,” says Bhin Banloerit, who is also a volunteer at the Ruamkatanyu Foundation, one of Thailand’s largest emergency response organizations. “In fact, I felt it brought me difficult times. It was my hard work that helped me overcome the difficulties life presented as well as my dedication to helping those in need.”
Among the adult urban Thai population, roughly 500,000 own ivory products and around 250,000 use tiger products based on USAID Wildlife Asia’s 2018 study, Research on Consumer Demand for Ivory and Tiger Products in Thailand. In addition, roughly 750,000 intend to buy and use these products in the future. An estimated 2.5 million and around 1.8 million adult urban Thais find use of ivory and tiger products socially acceptable, respectively. The study also found that the belief held by some that the power of elephants and tigers can bring good fortune and ward off evil is another driver of demand for derivative products from these endangered animals.
Thais may believe that amulets made from ivory harvested from domestic elephants without killing is less damaging. But, the research indicates that the sheer demand for amulets would have an incredible impact. A 2014 TRAFFIC Ivory Market Survey in Thailand reported there are estimated 1,230 adult male captive elephants in Thailand that could yield around 650 kilograms of ivory annually. USAID Wildlife Asia estimates that supplying even the current demand for amulets and other ivory items would require several times more than the number of captive male elephants.
Elephant and tiger populations across the world are facing an unprecedented crisis. They are slaughtered to supply the demand for products made from ivory and tiger parts, especially in Southeast Asia and China. The value of illegal wildlife crime globally is estimated to be between $5 billion and $23 billion annually. This organized transnational wildlife crime destroys wildlife populations and wildlife-based livelihoods, creating social and political instability.
“As we stated at the recent wildlife trade conference, CITES COP-18, Thailand is committed to tackling the illegal ivory and tiger trade,” says Director Somkiat Soontornpitakkool, Division of Wild Fauna and Flora Protection, Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation. “We believe that to completely end the illegal trade, strengthening law enforcement and reducing consumer demand must go hand-in-hand. We hope that our partnership with USAID and WildAid showcases our commitment to protecting the world’s elephants and tigers.”
“The damage caused by the continuing wildlife trade cannot be undone but it can be stopped, which is why WildAid continues to raise awareness and run demand reduction campaigns to dissuade people from making choices that threaten wildlife,” says John Baker, Chief Program Officer at WildAid. “We believe that faith-based messages together with help from influential voices, the Thai government, USAID, corporate, media partners and the public, can establish a new societal norm where using products made from elephant ivory and tiger parts is no longer acceptable.”
USAID Wildlife Asia’s 2018 study also found that a large proportion of those who desire ivory are women who own or would like to own jewelry and accessories made from elephant ivory.
“There is no beauty, no sacredness, no value in products that come from killing,” says ‘Top’ Daraneenute, a popular television actress. “Even a small piece of jewelry that comes from elephants or tigers fuels the illegal trade and steals from our natural environment because with every purchase you are creating a demand. Together, we must end the demand because when the buying stops, the killing can too.”
Peter A. Malnak, Mission Director, USAID Regional Mission for Asia, said, “By partnering with prominent Thai opinion and spiritual leaders, we hope the ‘A good life is free of killing’ campaign will help stigmatize products made from ivory and tiger parts, diminish their perceived spiritual benefits, and make their use socially unacceptable.”
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WildAid is a non-profit organization with a mission to protect wildlife from illegal trade and other imminent threats. While most wildlife conservation groups focus on protecting animals from poaching, WildAid primarily works to reduce global consumption of wildlife products such as elephant ivory, rhino horn and shark fin soup. With an unrivaled portfolio of celebrity ambassadors and a global network of media partners, WildAid leverages more than $308 million in annual pro-bono media support with a simple message: When the Buying Stops, the Killing Can Too.
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