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"Blood Ivory" Tops Agenda at International Conference

The ivory trafficking business is the #1 item at the 178-nation Conference on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) that’s being held this week and next in Bangkok, Thailand.

UN Environment Program Director Achim Steiner opened the conference by saying that wildlife trafficking “has become a business of enormous proportions – a billion-dollar trade in wildlife species that is analogous to that of the trade in drugs and arms … driven by a conglomerate of crime syndicates across borders.”

But don’t hold your breath for any significant action.

“The number of elephants that were killed in 2012 ran, as in 2011, into the tens of thousands,” Steiner said in his keynote speech. “Meanwhile a record 668 rhinos were poached in South Africa alone last year.”

Thailand’s prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, took the floor to say her country would work for better protections “with the goal of putting an end to the ivory trade.”

“No one cares more about the elephant than the Thai people,” she said.

But if that’s the case, the elephants and rhinos are in even bigger trouble than we feared, since much of the trade in ivory and rhino horn goes through Thailand.

Overall, since it’s about as difficult for the nations of the world to agree on anything as it is for the U.S. Congress, nothing much is expected to come out of this conference. The United States and Canada can’t even agree on a plan to save the polar bears. (Ironically, the U.S. is having better luck coming to an agreement with Russia, whose President, Vladimir Putin, fancies himself as a protector of large animals.)

Conservation groups like World Wildlife Fund and Traffic are urging the convention to punish Thailand, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo, for not doing enough to stem illegal ivory trading. But absent from their list is China, which is, so to speak, the elephant in the room. China does an enormous business in ivory and rhino trinkets, and whether by action or inaction, China now dictates the terms for the trading of animals and animal parts around the world.