OSLO (Reuters) - Thailand still has Asia's biggest illegal elephant ivory market despite promises to crack down, the wildlife trade monitoring group Traffic said on Friday.
The report said Bangkok should close "elephant-sized loopholes" in its wildlife protection laws that enable sellers to pass off illegal ivory as coming from a legal source of domesticated animals.
"The illegal trade in live elephants and ivory still flourishes in Thailand," according to Traffic's 73-page study.
It said the number of worked ivory pieces seen on sale during its latest survey had fallen substantially but was still high at 26,000 pieces compared to 88,000 noted in a previous report in 2001.
But it said there were more retail outlets dealing in ivory products than counted in 2001. "Thailand's capital, Bangkok, a major tourist destination, has emerged as the main hub for illegal ivory activities," it said.
"Thailand has consistently been identified as one of the world's top five countries most heavily implicated in the illicit ivory trade, but shows little sign of addressing outstanding issues," said Tom Milliken of Traffic.
The latest data was based on surveys in 2006/07 and a follow-up in 2008. Traffic is run by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and the WWF conservation group. The IUCN groups governments, scientists and environmental organisations.
Traffic urged Bangkok to tighten law enforcement. It also questioned exports, saying that nine elephants had been sent to Australia and five to Germany since a 2006 proclamation prohibited such sales.
And it said Thailand illegally imported elephants for tourism from Myanmar.
Traffic urged Thailand to set up a computer database, using genetic material, to track ivory from domesticated elephants to try to shut illegal ivory out of the market.
Under a 1939 law, possession and sale of ivory from domesticated Thai elephants is legal -- the law treats them as working animals such as cows or water buffalo. But a 1992 law bans trade in wild Thai elephants and products, and elephants from abroad.
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