Tiger and Ivory trade in Thailand getting out of hand
On the 26th of October the provincial police of Nonsila district, Khon Kaen Province stopped a vehicle that behaved suspicious, trying to get away from a routine road check point on the “Friendship highway” from Bangkok to Vientiane. In the back of the car police found 16 tiger cubs, aged 1 to 3 months of age, some of them dehydrated and with a high body temperature, 8 of the tigers were male and 8 female. The driver told police he was paid 15,000 baht for transporting the tiger cubs from the outskirts of Bangkok to Udon Thani province. The driver did not provide any more information than that he had no idea the transportation of tigers was illegal. He stated he did not know the origin of the cubs, nor did he know who owned the young wild animals.
WFFT has checked with several sources and informants and believe the tiger cubs came from more than one breeding facility in Kanchanaburi and Greater-Bangkok. The cubs were allegedly loaded up near Bang Bua Thong district in Bangkok. We further believe that these tigers might have been destined for more than one client. Although the road leads to Udon Thani, the car was stopped only 20 kilometers before Ban Phai intersection, where there is a right turn to the border town of Nakorn Phanom. On the opposite of Nakorn Phanom is the Laos city of Thakhek where one of the largest “safehouses” for wildlife is with dozens of bears, tigers and hundreds of pangolins awaiting transport to Vietnam and China. Two more vehicles with more tiger cubs are believed to have escaped arrest, the car stopped was supposedly the first of three cars on their way to the Thai-Laos border with tiger cubs. A wildlife trader in the outskirts of Viengtiane with ties to a powerful businessman in Boten province of Laos who claims to help a wildlife rescue group in Laos, is currently building a new bear-bile and tiger breeding facility near Viengtiane, despite the fact that Laos claims it is cracking down on the illegal wildlife trade and will no longer allow bear bile farms to continue their business. It is believed that these farms will need more bears and tigers from Thailand and Myanmar (Burma) as the profits are lucrative.
Although several government officials and NGO’s claim the bust was part of intelligence gathering of ASEAN-WEN, we have to conclude here that it was a “lucky catch” by an alert officer of the provincial police of Khon Kaen. We do believe that as long as ASEAN-WEN will not allow grassroots NGO’s to assist with investigation work and the sharing of intelligence with ASEAN-WEN there is little chance of a successful fight against the illegal wildlife trade within Thailand and the ASEAN region. Only 2 non governmental organisations are allowed to join ASEAN-WEN and their meetings for no given reason. The 16 tigers have been handed over by police to a Department of National Parks (DNP) breeding center in Chayaphum where two cubs have since allegedly died.
At the same time now however, there is no excuse for not finding the origin of the 16 tiger cubs within days from now. As the (DNP) claims to have made a complete DNA database of all tigers in captivity in Thailand over the last 2 years it should be very easy to proof the origin of the 16 confiscated tiger cubs. We look forward to see this result and will push for a real prosecution and harsh penalties. In most cases illegal wildlife traders are not prosecuted as they are given weeks to gather evidence of ownership, giving them time to produce fake ownership papers.
Over the last few months several illegal zoos and safe houses were raided were tigers have been found; a wildlife trader’s house in Sraburi province, a roof top cage with tigers in Bangkok, a floating market in Ayutthaya and in Hua hin, private zoos in Angthong and in Ratchburi provinces, however no one has been arrested or charged yet in any of these cases. A very worrying trend and extremely questionable given the fact that authorities say they are “cracking down against the illegal wildlife trade”.
WFFT is further investigating this case and is currently preparing a publication on the trade in tigers, monkeys and (African) ivory within Thailand.
UPDATE Nov 1, 2012: Our investigation team has found reliable intelligence that at least 4 of the cubs originate from Pattani Province.