Illegal Wildlife Trafficking in Asia: Thailand as a Hub?

by Thailand Lawyer on August 3, 2011

Last week, another article appeared in the Guardian about a man trying to smuggle at least fifty live snakes past customs officials in Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International airport. The individual was caught with the snakes coiled snugly in the bottom of several pairs of rolled-up socks in the man’s hand luggage. This isn’t the first time Thailand has made international headlines lately for the apparently thriving illegal wildlife trade operating within the country. In May, officials found four baby leopards, a marmoset, a gibbon and an Asiatic black bear cub tucked away in a passenger’s carry-on luggage.

Although the article linked to above discusses the issues these detentions exposed within law enforcement agencies in Thailand, most notably the battle against police corruption, another side of the story is left out.

What the article does not mention is that the trade in wild animals in Thailand is an established market and is often conducted lawfully.  Thailand is a major market for the legal wild animal trade.  Zoos, both public and private purchase wild animals from wildlife traders who work internationally.  Smuggling, however, occurs when traders are either unwilling or unable to comply with customs law and animal protection laws.

It is also quite likely that many of the animal species being smuggled through Thailand’s borders or the airport originate from surrounding countries such as Burma, Laos and Cambodia.  Thailand has made great progress in taking steps to tackle the flourishing illegal trade in animals, but as stated by the numerous wildlife protection groups in Thailand: more needs to be done. Two likely reasons for Thailand’s existing illegal trade issues lie in the sheer convenience of Thailand’s location. Its porous borders are difficult to monitor, and Bangkok’s international airport is a huge regional transportation hub for various countries within Asia and Southeast Asia. For these reasons, many middle men operating to connect poachers and buyers with their purchases choose to use Thailand as a transportation point.

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