Thai police raid secret ivory carving workshops

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Police raided secret ivory carving workshops in central Thailand, seizing an allegedly illegal haul of elephant and walrus tusks, authorities and a conservation group said Wednesday. 

Missakawan Buara, commander of the Nature Crime Police, said Tuesday’s raids in Nakorn Sawan province netted 6.6 pounds (3 kilograms) of hippopotamus teeth and walrus tusks, along with what were believed to be mammoth fossils from prehistoric times. 

The haul also included large pieces of African elephant tusks, according to Freeland, a Bangkok-based NGO that fights wildlife and human trafficking. It said that two Thai citizens associated with the factories had been arrested. 

Nakhon Sawan is a center for Thailand’s black market ivory trade, and Tuesday’s police actions were a follow-up to raids and arrests in the city last year, Freeland said. 

Under Thailand’s Wild Animal Reservation and Preservation Act, possession of elephant tusks without a permit is punishable by up to four years in jail or a fine up to 40,000 baht ($1,330) or both. 

More then 5 metric tons of tusks have been smuggled into Thailand from Africa in the last 15 months, during which Thai and African authorities have been investigating the illicit trade that threatens the survival of elephants and other rare wildlife, according to Freeland. 

“Thailand is both a transit point and destination for transnational ivory smuggling,” said Missakawan. He said the country’s skilled craftsman, mainly in Nakorn Sawan, make delicate pieces of carved ivory that sell inside Thailand or are exported to Europe, the United States, China and Hong Kong. 

In February, Thai authorities seized a ton of illicitly smuggled African elephant ivory and rhino horns at Bangkok’s international airport, estimated by the Customs Department to be worth more than $1.7 million in total. 

Source: Associated Press [March 30, 2011]

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