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Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 September, 2004, 14:00 GMT 15:00 UK
Thai campaign targets animal lovers
By Simon Montlake

advertisements from WildAid, created by J Walter Thompson ad agency
WildAid advertisements are designed to shock
A US conservation group has launched an advertising campaign to persuade Thais to report traders in protected wildlife.

In a series of television commercials, famous models, actors and other celebrities warn of the dangers facing Thailand's endangered animals and fish.

One commercial features a police hotline for viewers, encouraging them to report anyone selling animals or by-products such as ivory or tiger skins.

"When the buying stops, the killing can too," the advertisement says.

The campaign, organised by the group WildAid, also includes posters of orang-utans in suitcases, with airline baggage tags, to draw attention to cross-border smuggling.

Experts say Thailand is a crossroads for South East Asia's illegal wildlife trade, which is said to be worth more than $8bn a year.

Next month Bangkok is hosting the United Nation's biennial meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species [CITES].

Delegates from 166 countries will meet to review the list of species under threat.

Animals trafficked in South East Asia include orang-utans from Malaysia and Indonesia and tigers from Burma and Thailand.

The biggest Asian consumer of endangered wildlife is China, where many of the animals are destined for banquet tables or for use in traditional medicine.

Shark fin success

Campaigners say they want to enlist consumers in the fight to save these animals from extinction.

Without tackling the demand for wildlife, they say it is difficult to keep the poachers from plundering South East Asia's tropical forests.

"You must try to reach people in the urban areas who see endangered animals for sale, and appeal to them not to buy wildlife," said Anthony Lynam, regional advisor to the US-based World Conservation Society, which trains park rangers and border police to tackle poaching.

advertisements from WildAid, created by J Walter Thompson ad agency
Orang-utans are trafficked from Malaysia and Indonesia
WildAid has already scored one victory in its battle to win over consumers.

Three years ago it produced a series of provocative print advertisements aimed at curbing the trade in sharks' fins.

One of these adverts featured a soup tureen covered by a ceramic lid painted in the style of a Chinese tombstone.

It warned that shark's fin soup, an Asian delicacy, contained high levels of mercury and was therefore bad for your health as well as bad for the environment.

A survey in Bangkok found a 32% drop in consumption of the soup, after the adverts ran in Thai newspapers and magazines.

Angry restaurant owners in Bangkok's Chinatown responded with a $2.7m lawsuit that a judge dismissed last month.

Education campaign

Steve Galster, founder of WildAid, says the new campaign will build on this success.

"What we're trying to do is make Thailand a model for South East Asia, and drive consumption down further," he said.

"If Thais know how animals get to them and how they suffer, it really turns them off."

Cindy Burbridge, a Thai-born model and actress involved in the campaign, says young people are becoming more aware of environmental issues.

An orang-utan boxer at Safari World 01/08/04
Thai police banned a controversial orang-utan boxing show in August
"It's a slow and painful process," she admits. "The challenge is to make [conservation] a responsibility for everyone."

One endangered species often in the poachers' sights is the tiger - of which only 5,000-7,000 are thought to remain in the wild.

Mr Lynam estimates that Thailand and neighbouring Malaysia have a wild tiger population of only 250.

Tigers once roamed throughout Asia, from the icy tundra of Siberia to the tropical forests of Borneo.

In Thailand, tourists can see tigers in private zoos, where they are bred in captivity.

But animal welfare groups accuse some zoos of exploiting animals and fuelling the illicit wildlife trade.

Last month an animal park near Bangkok suspended an orang-utan kickboxing show after repeated public complaints.

The docile apes had been trained to fight in a boxing ring for tourists.

The park owner has since been charged with illegally importing dozens of orang-utans from Indonesia.

Less than 30,000 orang-utans live in Indonesia and Malaysia, where loss of habitat and poaching has decimated their numbers.

Campaigners also want tougher action on restaurants that serve rare animal delicacies to Asian tourists.

Last October police recovered tiger carcasses and bear paws from a Bangkok warehouse that was supplying specialist restaurants.

Thai orang-utan fights suspended
04 Aug 04  |  Asia-Pacific
Orang-utans 'may die out by 2025'
12 Jan 04  |  Science/Nature
Tough questions on species survival
02 Nov 02  |  In Depth
Thailand carving an illegal trade
13 Jun 02  |  Asia-Pacific

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