Thailand’s wildlife trafficking battle: A US$20 billion trade swinging into action

Picture of animal parts courtsey of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation.

The fight against wildlife trafficking in Thailand, a trade valued at approximately US$20 billion, is in full swing.

Police Colonel Wanpichit Wattanasakmonta, an officer dedicated to the wildlife trafficking cause, stresses the importance of not only preserving wildlife but also protecting the environment and natural resources for a sustainable world. Thailand, a country that houses 10% of the world’s animal species, is a prominent hub for this unlawful trade.

The past saw Thailand peppered with farms rearing tigers, bears, and crocodiles, with shop windows flaunting tiger and leopard skins. Global species were openly sold in the famous Chatuchak market. However, the situation has witnessed a considerable change.

In 2019, a new Wildlife Conservation and Protection Act came into effect, safeguarding non-native species and increasing the imprisonment period for traffickers up to two decades. Noteworthy legal actions include the conviction of Vietnamese trafficker kingpin, Boonchai Bach, who received a five-year prison sentence from the Supreme Court in 2022.

Additionally, on September 19, Malaysian Teo Boon Ching, famously known as the godfather of trafficking, received an 18-month sentence in the US for conspiring to traffic hundreds of kilograms of rhinoceros horns worth millions of dollars. Ching was extradited from Thailand, cementing the country’s commitment to battling this illegal trade.

However, the issue of wildlife trafficking continues to persist. A recent instance is the discovery of a rat and an otter on a flight from Suvarnabhumi to Taipei on October 4. They had escaped from a carry-on bag containing another otter, 20 Burmese star tortoises, a snake, a prairie dog, and two black giant squirrels.

Wildlife trafficking

Pol. Col. Wanpichit stated that wildlife trafficking is a serious concern for those invested in animal welfare, species conservation, and the prevention of zoonotic diseases, believed by many scientists to be the origin of Covid-19.

“In the last two to three years, we have seized both protected animals and ‘reserved’ animals from smugglers.”

He mentioned that the list of trafficked species includes exotic birds, leopard cubs, macaques, and recently, pangolins. The smuggling of snakes and tiger parts is prevalent too.

The trafficking of pangolins, sought after for their meat and scales used in traditional Chinese medicine, is a growing issue.

These creatures, once common in Thailand, are now primarily captured in Indonesia and transported live to Myanmar by ship or overland through Malaysia. They are then rapidly moved across the Thai border, towards the Lao border, and finally into China.

The smuggling of macaque monkeys, originating from northern Thailand, is also widespread. It is believed these animals are ultimately destined for laboratories in China.

The wildlife protection officer was clear that the fight against this illicit trade will continue until the demand for these products diminishes.

“In some countries, news and information about the dangers, consequences, and penalties related to wildlife trafficking are almost non-existent. And here in Thailand, some people still think: It’s hunting. It’s a way of life.”

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Crime NewsThailand News

Mitch Connor

Mitch is a Bangkok resident, having relocated from Southern California, via Florida in 2022. He studied journalism before dropping out of college to teach English in South America. After returning to the US, he spent 4 years working for various online publishers before moving to Thailand.

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