Published 22 February 2016

Legal loopholes leave non-native wildlife unprotected in Thailand

Bangkok, Thailand, 22nd February 2016—TRAFFIC is urging Thailand to improve its laws to protect a host of non-native wildlife species from trafficking, the same way it has for African Elephants and the illegal ivory trade.

Highly threatened yet not protected in Thailand: a Ploughshare Tortoise for sale in SE Asia

Thailand, a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), protects its native wildlife through the Wild Animal Reservation and Protection Act (WARPA). 

With the exception of the African Elephant Loxodonta africana, which was included in WARPA in December 2014, this law neglects to protect all other non-native wildlife, making enforcement and compliance with CITES complex and in some cases impossible.

Lack of legal protection presents a challenge to enforcement authorities as there is no legal basis to investigate or seize specimens, even if they are detected. 

The loophole in Thailand’s legislation and the urgent need for legal reform were raised following a recently published study carried out by TRAFFIC on the tortoise and freshwater turtle trade at Bangkok’s Chatuchak Weekend Market where long-term monitoring found unabated trade over a decade involving non-native species, including several listed in CITES Appendix I. 

A listing in Appendix I of CITES means commercial international trade in a species is prohibited. 

During 12 surveys, carried out from 2004 to 2013, no fewer than 2,500 tortoises and freshwater turtles were recorded in Chatuchak, 97% of the species encountered were of foreign origin. 

In total, almost half of the species observed were globally threatened and currently banned from international trade.

They included some of the world’s rarest animals, including the CITES Appendix I-listed Ploughshare Tortoise Astrochelys yniphora, Radiated Tortoise Astrochelys radiata and Burmese Star Tortoise Geochelone platynota

During a presentation at the 36th annual Thailand Wildlife Seminar, held in December 2015 by the Faculty of Forestry, Kasetsart University, TRAFFIC presented findings from two studies, one on tortoises and freshwater turtles the other on great apes, which highlighted the lack of protection for these species under WARPA.

In November last year, Thailand repatriated 14 orangutans Pongo spp. to Indonesia, 12 of which had been smuggled into the country. According to CITES trade-records no more than five orangutans have been legally imported into the country since 1975, however recent TRAFFIC estimates put the number of specimens currently residing in Thai zoos and wildlife attractions at well over fifty.

TRAFFIC welcomes reports that Thailand is in the process of drafting a new wildlife law that will incorporate non-native species thus fixing current loopholes, but believes such amendments are an absolute priority. 

‘’If we are to put a halt to the illegal international wildlife trade and to prevent globally threatened species from going extinct, such legal reform is desperately needed,” said Dr Chris R. Shepherd, Regional Director for TRAFFIC in Southeast Asia and co-author of the new study. 

“Thailand’s ivory reforms are a clear example of how things can improve: we look forward to a more inclusive and comprehensive law that will greatly strengthen enforcement in the country.”

At the CITES Standing Committee held last month, TRAFFIC called for development of a mechanism whereby countries can be supported to eliminate loopholes in their legislation that facilitate trade in Appendix I listed species not native to the country concerned.


The newly published study, Ongoing Trade in Illegally-Sourced Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles Highlights the Need for Legal Reform in Thailand, can be downloaded from the Natural History Bulletin of the Siam Society website: