Wildlife touts arrested in Patong

PATONG: Four photo-taking touts have been arrested by police and charged with having young gibbons in their possession without the required wildlife licences. One has already been fined 20,000 baht. The men were taken into custody over Songkran in Patong after a steady stream of complaints from tourists. Further charges will be laid against the four if allegations that the baby gibbons were drugged can be proven. The animals are now in the care of the island’s Gibbon Rehabilitation Project (GRP). One man, Tawee Kingjampa – the first to be arrested, on April 11– has already been fined 20,000 baht by the court. The other three, arrested on subsequent nights, were released on bail to appear in court later. The maximum penalty for illegal possession of wildlife is four years in jail or a fine of 40,000 baht. The three were named as Dej Khunpol, 25, Jaroon Lukwai, 27, and Suchart Kongyot. With effect from November, the law has required people to declare wildlife in their possession, to register their ownership, and to treat the animals with proper care. Before the new law came into force, police and wildlife officials were powerless to act, even though many people complained about the treatment of gibbons, sea eagles and other animals in Patong, where touts paraded the creatures, urging tourists to hold the animals while having their photographs taken for a fee. Awat Nitikul, Chief of the Khao Prathaew Non-Hunting Area, was delegated to lead a team of officers in the case. He said instructions to act came from the Forestry Department in Bangkok, which had received many complaints about photo-taking touts. Catching the men required undercover work with the help of Kathu police, K. Awat said. “The men tried to hide the baby gibbons under big jackets and show them as tourists walked past. “I believe these people were working as a team and I understand that some of them come from Ranong,” he said. “Our investigations are continuing.” He added, “I heard the cost of one photo is 500 baht to 1,200 baht. That’s expensive.” He noted that the men appeared to think that they could continue to operate without fear of legal action. K. Awat added that 44 gibbons are legally registered as being in private ownership in Phuket. People who see wildlife being mistreated or abused may call Tel: 06-6897040, 01-8943120 or 07-2684148 around the clock.

Phuket News
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