The investigation was initiated after the successful arrest of two Vietnamese males by Thai police in late October 2018 following a tip-off from a Thai driver-for-hire. The driver was travelling between the west-central towns of Tak and Pitsanalok. His suspicions were raised by baggage belonging to two foreign customers, so he called the police. The police stopped the vehicle, inspected the bag, and discovered a fresh tiger skeleton inside. The police arrested the owners of the bag, took the suspects and tiger remains to the Nakhon Sawan police station, and inspected the suspects’ belongings, including their phones.
Police then contacted Freeland for analytical assistance. Freeland’s forensics experts were dispatched to the scene and provided on-the-job training. Using Cellebrite digital forensics technology, police found evidence that the poachers, originating from Vietnam, had crossed Laos into Thailand for targeted hunting inside Thailand’s forests. The poachers documented their trips on their phones, including tiger kills.
Freeland believes the poachers were working on assignment from a Vietnamese criminal syndicate. “We do not think this was the poacher’s first time in Thailand, and we have reason to believe they were planning to strike again,” said Petcharat Sangchai, director of Freeland-Thailand.
Following the discovery of the gang and poached tiger, Thai rangers were put on high alert. “This gang has been removed as a threat, but we should be aware that whoever employed them may dispatch more hunters to kill our country’s tigers,” said Petcharat. “Police, rangers and the public must remain vigilant.”
Freeland is providing a reward to the driver as part of a new wildlife protection rewards program called TYGER. Freeland thanks its supporters, including Big Cat Rescue and MCM for helping its team deliver technical assistance. Freeland is now trying to bridge an information exchange to suppress cross-border poaching and trafficking, which Freeland believes extends to criminal exploitation of rosewood trees.