Photo courtesy of WildAid

Each year an estimated 30,000 African elephants are brutally killed for their tusks, which are then illegally smuggled to supply the high demand for ivory, predominantly in Asia. And although elephants are widely revered in Thailand, there is a cruel paradox at the heart of our relationship with them—this country is the world’s second biggest market for the illegal ivory trade.

In light of the sad fact that these majestic creatures are now, more than ever, facing a poaching crisis—disappearing at a rate much faster than their population growth—Thailand recently joined an international effort to address the issue. The government has taken several measures to try to halt the country’s illegal ivory trade through the implementation of its National Ivory Action Plan, which has just been extended this year.

(Related: Thailand Tatler Heroes Elephants World Photo Contest Winners Announced!)

The business sector is playing its part too. In a joint effort to demonstrate their solidarity and to raise awareness on the plight of elephants, a group of 15 business leaders recently pledged to protect these majestic creatures as part of the Ivory Free Thailand Campaign, which was initiated in 2015 by WildAid and WWF Thailand. Together they pledged to lead by example in developing sustainable and socially responsible business practices; not to purchase, use or give as gifts any illegal wildlife products and ivory; to encourage friends, family and employees never to purchase any illegal wildlife products; and to support efforts to conserve Thailand’s rich natural heritage and protect wildlife.

Among the 15 businesses, a few kindly share their opinions on this important matter with us.

William Heinecke, Chairman and CEO of Minor International

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It should come as little surprise to find the founder of Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp & Resort, home to an award-winning elephant camp and Anantara’s Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation, taking the lead on this campaign.

“I have a deep respect for these gentle giants and through Minor Hotels, we are playing a vital role in their protection as well as helping to create a better environment for future generations,” says Heinecke.

He adds: “My motivation is simple. It is crucial that we take a strong and impactful stand against the harm and destruction of wildlife for selfish entertainment and greed. It’s completely unnecessary to profit from such illicit business. It is time to take action and I fully support the fight to protect our planet’s wildlife.”

After spending many years in Thailand, Heinecke has come to hold a special place in his heart not only for Thai culture but also for elephants, which he calls “one of the greatest enduring symbols of the country.” According to him, the role of businesses in Thailand with regard to the reduction of wildlife products such as ivory is crucial. “The ivory trade is an ecological and moral disaster,” he highlights. “Every single voice counts. Only by working together can we beat this crisis and everyone of us has to be the disruptive factor that breaks the cycle.”

For the CEO, business isn’t only about profit margins, and the way a company conducts itself should reflect and support its core values and beliefs. “If we are not here to make a positive difference, then we shouldn’t be in business,” he says. Business leaders and business entities can become role models. “By implementing best practices, we can encourage our customers to join us and stand together in the fight to protect wild animals. On a practical level, businesses can ensure that they do not engage in the trade of ivory, use it as decoration or glorify it in anyway.”

Harald Link, Chairman and CEO of B Grimm

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B Grimm is a respected energy, healthcare and real estate company. According to Harald Link, it’s CEO, the company has been in Thailand for 139 years with the purpose of doing business compassionately, with respect for the development of civilisation and in harmony with nature.

“We highly appreciate everyone who supports wildlife and goes against poaching,” he says. “Wildlife is a precious and essential part of our planet. It is in the highest long-term interest of humanity to preserve wildlife reserves as extensively as possible. Thailand used to be the land of rhinos, which are long gone now due to the poaching of their horns. No matter the animal, we should not decorate our homes with their misery.” 

In addition to advocating against the illegal trafficking of Ivory in Thailand, B Grimm also strongly supports the Ministry of Natural Resources in its efforts to keep tigers in Thailand alive through its continuous donations to the WWF. In fact, the company embraces work ethics which aims to not only protect wildlife. “At B Grimm, we aim to achieve sustainable success beyond the 139 years that we have served the nation by using loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity towards everyone inside and outside of the company,” he says. “We adhere to the four pillar principles of the gross national happiness centre of Bhutan, which are good governance, social and economic sustainable development, environmental protection and supporting cultural heritage and development.”

Kamala Sukosol, President of Sukosol Hotels Group

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“It is morally wrong to kill these magnificent animals for decoration,” says Kamala Sukosol, president of the Sukosol Hotels Group. She joined the campaign without hesitation. “In Thailand, the law is focused on tracking the trade of ivory,” she says. “But the best way to stop it completely is to convince people that there is simply no reason to buy ivory. This campaign, with its high-profile role models, is a good starting point for showing people that ivory is a thing of the past.”

In addition to elephants, Kamala believes the importance of environment conservation as a whole—it’s something she has strived to incorporate into all of her business enterprises. “In our hotels, we are introducing more and more sustainable practices, ranging from the purchasing of organic rice directly from local farmers to switching to the use of biogas in the kitchens and undergoing projects to reduce the consumption of energy and water,” she says.

She adds: “Here in Thailand, and especially for us in the tourism industry, we rely on the natural beauty of out country, so we must all do everything we can to protect the environment.”

David Lyman, Chairman at Tilleke & Gibbons

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A figurehead of Thailand’s law industry, David Lyman and his firm dedicates himself to providing practical advice to multinational corporations and SMEs on foreign direct investment, mergers, acquisitions, corporate governance, anti-corruption issues and more. But his high-stakes interests aren’t just limited to humans—he is also a dedicated supporter of wildlife conservation. For him, CSR isn’t just about helping people but also about protecting our environment and wildlife as a whole.

Last year, Lyman received an award from Thailand’s National Legislative Assembly for his dedication to protecting abandoned animals. “I have been interested in wildlife for many decades now,” he says. “And I have always been concerned about ivory because it means killing them. Poachers don’t wait for them to die of natural causes.” Many years ago, he was approached regarding a severely abused elephant that was in dire need of help. “I ended up with an elephant which was kept in the elephant camp in Ayuthaya.” It was then that his interest and concern for these majestic creatures was reinforced.

“We are killing off wildlife and upsetting the balance of nature because unfortunately, we humans have a tendency to think that we are always superior,” he says.

For Lyman, the reasoning is simple: as we are the ones destroying the planet, it is up to us to fix it. “We inherited the world as it is and it is our duty to look after it. Sadly, we are not doing a very good job at it right now,” he says. “So maybe it’s worth taking a look at this again, and at every level, be it the individual level, corporate level or national level. We need to make it inhabitable to all.”

He adds: “As humans, we have to look after our values. We cannot forget what they are and if we deviate from them, we hit trouble.” 

Take your pledge today at www.ivoryfreethai.org.

(More: We Can Be Heroes: Thailand Tatler Heroes Roundup (Part One))

Tags: Kamala Sukosol, Sukosol Hotels Group, William Heinecke, Tilleke & Gibbons, WildAid, WWF Thailand, Ivory Free Thailand, B. Grimm, Minor International, HARALD LINK, David Lyman