Police seize four tiger cubs in northeast Thailand

Police and national park officials arrested a Thai couple and seized four tiger cubs worth 2 million baht this morning in Mukdahan province in northeast Thailand. Despite officers luring the couple to arrest by posing as interested customers, they panicked and told police they planned on raising the tigers themselves.

Just a few months ago, the mastermind behind the seizure, Chaiwat Limlikitaksorn (pictured left) – a former national park chief – was indicted over the murder of Karen activist Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen in 2014.

National park officials and police caught wind that a Thai couple were selling prohibited wildlife in northeast Thailand and planned to meet them in the car park of a hotel near the bus station in Mukdahan province at 5.30am this morning. The officers agreed to buy the cubs for a price of 2 million baht.

Sure enough, police found four baby tigers in the back of the couple’s pickup truck. Officers arrested the driver, 63 year old Thanad Wongsan, and his wife [name unknown] from Chiang Rai province. Police seized the cubs and the vehicle.

The couple told police they were not actually selling the cubs and planned on raising the tigers themselves. The couple said the tigers came from “another country” and were delivered to them in Thailand. They said they did not know where the cubs had come from.

The couple were arrested by Pol. Col. Thanatchon Kengkasikij from the Natural Resources and Environmental Crime Division accompanied by the controversial Director of Conservation Area 9 Chaiwat Limlikitaksorn.

Chaiwat is the former superintendent of Kaeng Krachan National Park in Phetchaburi province. He was removed from his position when he was accused of murdering Karen activist Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen at the national park years ago. He was moved to Isaan to direct Conservation Area 9 instead.

Billy was last seen on April 17, 2014, when he was unlawfully arrested by Chaiwat and other park officials for allegedly collecting wild honey in the forest. Billy had previously filed a lawsuit against Chaiwat and the Department of National Parks, accusing Chaiwat of burning down houses and evicting 20 Karen families from their homes inside the national park.

When Chaiwat arrested Billy for collecting honey, Billy was on his way to a court hearing in the case. After that, Billy was never seen again.

In 2019, the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) found bone fragments in an oil barrel at the bottom of a reservoir in the national park. The bones matched DNA samples taken from Billy’s mother and the court ruled that Billy was murdered.

Despite ongoing court hearings, no one has ever been held accountable for Billy’s murder eight years later. In fact, Chaiwat was the main suspect in the case but was let out on bail and cleared of all the charges earlier this year. Now he is out catching tiger cubs.

In April, police seized an adorable four month old tiger cub in a car park in Nonthaburi and arrested three men under suspicion of possessing and trafficking protected wildlife. All three men admitted to smuggling the tiger cub into Thailand from Laos.

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Leah is a translator and news writer for the Thaiger. Leah studied East Asian Religions and Thai Studies at the University of Leeds and Chiang Mai University. Leah covers crime, politics, environment, human rights, entertainment, travel and culture in Thailand and southeast Asia.

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