On January 12, 2018, under the harsh glare of flash photography, a collection of 31 elephant ivory pieces with an endorsing value of 15 million baht, stood on display at a police press conference. This confiscation, originating from Nigeria based wildlife traders crossing borders illegally into Thailand, painted a grim picture of the illicit wildlife trade. The incident fuelled further motivation for stringent measures in combating such serious offenses.(Photo: Apichart Jinakul)
In response, the Department of National Parks, Wildlife, and Plant Conservation (DNP) sprang into action, launching a dedicated intelligence unit named the Wildlife Crime Intelligence Unit (WCU). This initiative was fortified by the unwavering support of Noppadol Pholsen, Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Phatcharavat Wongsuwan, who spearheaded the inauguration ceremony.
Designed as a symbol of resistance against illegal wildlife trade, the WCU stands financed by the Illegal Wildlife Trade Project. This significant initiative stretches over five years, revamping efforts to clamp down on illicit transactions concerning ivory, rhino horn, tigers, and pangolins.
Strikes of endorsement for the WCU resonate far and wide, with nods of approval from influential organisations such as the United Nations Development Programme and the Wildlife Conservation Society. This endorsement emphasizes further the global importance of preserving biodiversity and fighting against wildlife trade offenses.
The WCU has turned to modern technological advancements to ensure their purpose is achieved. The intelligence unit utilises the intricate ‘I2’ database technology, a method for collection and data interpretation often seen as a complex process due to the nature of the information at hand, as an aid in its continuing efforts to dismantle illegal wildlife trade.
This technology breathes life to abstract data, shaping it into a comprehensible form to assist in investigations. It laces together information from various sources, tracing the movements of wildlife poachers, keeping tabs on their contacts, and uncovering their hideouts, along with collecting local intelligence. With the successful integration of the ‘I2’ database, the WCU now stands at the forefront of this battle, armed with some of the most advanced tools.
The DNP, being the agency accountable for the WCU, is stepping up to the occasion, dispatching park officers on an intensive training itinerary to utilise this sophisticated tool. A strong partnership is being cultivated between these park officers and the WCU to ensure optimal results. Additionally, the WCU takes the baton on hosting training modules for the special working group of the DNP’s wildlife enforcement network.
Since the appointment of Pol Gen Phatcharavat as minister, there has been a heightened emphasis on enforcing laws related to forest and wildlife resources. The DNP is entrusted with enforcing the Wild Animal Conservation and Protection Act 2019. In a bid to increase penalties, the act has been updated, extending punishments to include possessing, trading, importing, and exporting protected wildlife trophies.
International cooperative efforts are also on the rise, with Thailand uniting with world conventions focusing on wildlife and plants. The country is taking steadfast strides in the enforcement of preventive measures against illegal wildlife trade—a testament to its commitment to preserving and protecting the world’s cherished biodiversity.