Illegal wildlife vendors netted at Phuket’s Wat Chalong Fair

PHUKET: Wildlife preservation officers and Marine Police last night arrested three people and seized more than 300 items of jewelry made from coral and the shells of the endangered Hawksbill turtle.

Tanet Munnoy, chief of the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources (DMCR) Phuket office, led the raid at the temple grounds after his office received a tip-off from people visiting the fair (story here).

Chaluay Wongmuda, 39, was caught in possession of 26 bracelets made from Hawksbill turtle shells as well as 68 bracelets, two necklaces and 11 rings made from coral.

Manus Suebsot, 31, was caught selling 115 bracelets and one necklace made from coral; and Mayura Suebsot, 22, was arrested with 114 bracelets and two necklaces made from coral and two pieces of decorative coral.

The street value of the items was estimated at more than 200,000 baht.

“We were told that a lot of protected wildlife products were being sold at the fair, and that there were many more than the three vendors we caught, but we failed to find any others last night,” said Mr Tanet.

“They might have run away when they saw officers arriving. We plan to inspect the fair again tonight.”

Some people believe that ornaments made from black polished coral are lucky, Mr Tanet explained.

“But it takes so long to grow. Some corals grow only about 5mm a year,” he said.

Items made from Hawksbill turtle shells are particularly sought by consumers.

“These turtles are harvested for their beautiful shells to make a range of small decorative items,” Mr Tanet lamented.

“Although local conservation efforts have increased in the past few years, Hawksbill numbers have been decreasing and they are close to extinction.”

Corals and Hawksbill turtles in Thailand are protected under the Wildlife Preservation and Protection Act B.E. 2535.

“The vendors were taken to Chalong Police Station and charged with illegal trading in protected wildlife species,” said Lt Col Panya Chaichana of the Phuket Marine Police.

“The penalty is four years in prison, a fine of up to 40,000 baht, or both.”

— Kritsada Mueanhawong

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