Engaging the Buddhist community to support Illegal Wildlife Trade Campaign

Posted on 31 October 2013
“The essence of Buddhism is to feel empathy for all living beings since we share this characteristic, no matter where we are in the world” - Phra Ajarn Chayasaro Bhikkhu, Buddhist Monastery, Nakornrachasima

Monks play an important role in Thai society, since the majority of Thais are Buddhist and many people respect monks as spiritual leaders. Some monks have already been involved with environmental issues for years as part of their religious duty to help relieve suffering. Given these prior experiences and overlapping aims, the Illegal Wildlife Trade Campaign defined a strategy to engage with Buddhist leaders in order to convey our message to their followers and the public.

The Buddhist leaders that have been engaged include Phra Brahma Bandit, rector of Mahachulalongkorn University, a Buddhist monk university in Thailand; Phra Paisal Visalo, a well-known Buddhist monk who is very actively involved in environmental and social issues; Phra Chayasaro Bhikkhu, a foreign Buddhist monk who is influencing Buddhist communities with his simple practice and teaching, and Mae Chee Sansanee Sthirasuta, a Buddhist nun who is the founder and Director of Sathien Dhammasathan. The IWTC conducted meetings with these Buddhist leaders in order to share knowledge and updates on the global and national situation surrounding the ivory trade crisis resulting in the frenzied killing of African elephants. The Buddhist leaders provided valuable insight from their unique perspective, with recordings being made and used by the campaign.

During the CITES CoP 16 meeting in Bangkok, we organized an event entitled “Merit Making for the African Elephant” on March 9, 2013 at Wat That Thong in Bangkok. The event, which was attended by many national and international media representatives, was very successful in drawing attention to the problematic ivory trade in Thailand and raising awareness about the value of wildlife and nature. Phra Paisal Visalo of Wat Pa Sukato, Chaiyapum one of the involved Buddhist leaders, stated that “We must put a stop to the demand for ivory which is used as a material for sacred items such as Buddha sculptures and amulets worshipped and sold in many temples, as well as ivory pieces of decoration. I beg the Buddhists in Thailand, who know well that the killing is a sin, to stop using any items made from ivory and stop buying ivory Buddha statues or other ivory sacred pieces.”

This event emphasized the power of faith-based conservation with monks speaking out about how environmental sustainability is very much in line with religious values. The primary organizers of the event were Kritsana Kaewplang, WWF-Thailand, and Dekila Chungyalpa, Director of WWF’s Sacred Earth Program.

In the second phase of the Illegal Wildlife Trade Campaign, engagement with the Buddhist leaders will continue with a focus on developing a curriculum on “Buddhism and Wildlife Conservation” and establishing a Buddhist Conservation Network. We believe that it would help raise public awareness and help to educate young people who will be the key agents for conservation in the future.  
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.”
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.
© WWF-Thailand Enlarge
Merit making ceremony.
Merit making ceremony.
© WWF-Thailand Enlarge

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