AsianScientist (Mar. 11, 2013) – As world governments meet in Bangkok, Thailand to discuss global wildlife trade, revered Thai Buddhist leaders held on Friday the first-ever Buddhist merit-making ceremony to pray for the tens of thousands of elephants poached annually.
Thailand is the world’s largest unregulated ivory market and a major sink for ivory poached from Africa. At the opening of the 16th Conference of Parties (CoP16) of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES) on March 3, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra announced a shutdown of the country’s ivory market though gave no timeline.
A large percentage of Thailand’s ivory is bought by foreign tourists, but there is significant demand among devout Buddhists for ivory carved into images of the Buddha, amulets, and other objects of worship. The Buddhist leaders called on their congregations and other temples to reject the use and trade of ivory.
Leading the merit-making ceremony were Ajahn Jayasaro, a forest monk and Buddhist teacher; Phra Maha Jerm Suvaco of the Maha Chula Buddhist University; Mae Chee Sansanee, founder and director of Sathira-Dhammasathan Center; and Phra Paisal Visalo, abbot of Wat Pasukato. Each offered teachings on conservation and the role of Buddhists in saving elephants from wildlife crime.
“We are honored to come together with the Buddhist leadership of Thailand, on this auspicious occasion of making merit for African elephants – the first ever for elephants,” said Dekila Chungyalpa, director of the Sacred Earth program for WWF.
Supported by WWF, the event at Wat That Thong in downtown Bangkok sought to educate the deeply religious Thai public on the link between ivory and wildlife crime, and encourage the leadership of Buddhist temples and congregations to discontinue the use and trade of ivory.
A merit-making ceremony is a ritual practiced commonly in Thailand, where bereaved members of a family or well-wishers of the deceased make offerings and request prayers and blessings that will accompany the deceased into their future lives.
“Having prestigious leaders from the Buddhist community in Thailand lead this ceremony here, which is usually practiced for a family member who has passed away, emphasizes that we are all interdependent and part of one great web of life,” said Phansiri Winichagoon, country director of WWF-Thailand.
Monks, members of the Thai public, government representatives, and delegates from the ongoing CITES attended the ceremony.
The event also featured a giant chalk drawing of an elephant designed by artist Remko van Schaik with messages in English and Thai saying “I am not a trinket” and “Ivory belongs to elephants.” Attendees took photos with the elephant artwork and also wrote prayers for poached elephants and hung them from trees in the courtyard of the temple.
Source: WWF; Artwork by Remko van Schaik at Wat That Thong temple in Bangkok.
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