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EXPLOSIVE: Thailand’s Breathtaking Wildlife Being Decimated by Illicit $20 Billion Trade – Can the Law Fight Back?

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Outstretched in the grasp of law-enforcement officers, an array of confiscated wildlife parts – antlers, tusks, pelts and more, lay in the aftermath of a two-year-old raid in Ratchaburi province. A grim testament to one individual’s illicit wildlife exploits.  

Pol Col Wanpichit Wattanasakmonta, the superintendent of Natural Resources and Environmental Crime Suppression Division’s Sub-division 6, asserted the necessity of a harmonious coexistence between humanity and the natural world. “To protect wildlife is to safeguard our planet and its resources for future generations,” said the officer, dedicated to stemming wildlife trafficking, an unlawful industry amassing an estimated net worth of US$20 billion.

Proudly hosting 10% of the planet’s diverse animal species, the allure of Thailand’s wildlife richness has unfortunately also made it a prime hotspot for illegal trade, serving as a source, crossing path and final stop. The situation, although alarming, has seen significant improvements over years. Species openly marketed or bred in captivity has declined drastically.

In their persistent efforts against trafficking, legislative pathways have been reinforced. A more comprehensive Wildlife Conservation and Protection Act was passed in 2019, prohibitively incorporating non-native species under its purview and severely hiking trafficking sentences to a daunting 20 years. Following suit, the Supreme Court finally apprehended the notorious trafficker Boonchai Bach in 2022, meting out a five-year sentence for his long-lasting illegal endeavours. The recent arrest of Malaysian trafficker godfather, Teo Boon Ching, further underscores this mission’s seriousness.

Despite stricter laws and well-publicised apprehensions, illegal animal trade persists across the nation. One stark instance was an otter and a rat scurrying loose on an October flight from Suvarnabhumi to Taipei, surreptitiously escaping from a smuggler’s carry-on luggage.

Pol Col Wanpichit was quick to dissuade any inclination to trivialise these incidents, highlighting their gravity concerning animal exploitation, species extinction and looming zoonotic diseases such as Covid-19. He underscored that various protected animals continue to be seized from smugglers, listing exotic birds, leopard cubs and the endangered pangolins among others.

Pangolins, known for their distinct scales and meat, have vanished from Thailand’s forests due to illicit trafficking. The surviving pangolins are largely sourced from Indonesia, endure a perilous journey by sea to Myanmar or by land through Malaysia, cutting through Thailand towards Laos and finally into China.

Concomitantly, the illicit trafficking of macaque monkeys persists profusely, plucked from Thailand’s northern forests tile their eventual fate in clandestine Chinese laboratories, as feared by Pol Col Wanpichit. The officer remains circumspect, veering from pointing fingers directly to preserve diplomatic nuances.

While there has been commendable progress tackling these criminal networks, Pol Col Wanpichit emphasises that such measures alone won’t eradicate the trafficking crisis. It requires a concurrent plummeting of the demand for such illegal wildlife products.

He bemoaned the rampant apathy and lack of knowledge about the grim ramifications of wildlife trafficking in certain societies. Some continue feeding the demand, dismissing it as a mere case of hunting or a way of life. Only when the veil of ignorance lifts, can the fight against wildlife trafficking find a true, lasting ground.

Listen to the full enlightening conversation with Pol Col Wanpichit Wattanasakmonta in the Deeper Dive episode of Bangkok Post’s brand new podcast. Alternatively, search ‘Deeper Dive Thailand’ on your podcast platform.

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