By PIYAPORN WONGRUANG
For the last week or so, the country has reeled at shocking evidence that wildlife trafficking is rife in Thailand.
The first incident to shake the country came with the National Parks, Wildlife, and Plant Conservation Department’s mission to relocate a few tigers from Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua Yannasampanno in Kanchanaburi province.
The routine operation took an extraordinary turn when wildlife officials not only stumbled on 137 tigers but also discovered more than 40 tiger-cub carcasses in a freezer, hundreds of talismans fashioned from animal parts, engraved fangs, and other grisly evidence.
Piles of documents found soon after at the temple offered evidence of wildlife smuggling that may have been international in scale.
The second incident, which unfolded almost simultaneously, stemmed from an operation by the department’s new Phraya Suea taskforce at a zoo in Hua Hin, Prachuap Khiri Khan province. Led by its commander, Chaiwat Limlikhit-aksorn, the team inspected the zoo twice, culminating yesterday in the discovery of irregularities in its wild-animal permits.
The Phraya Suea team discovered that not only were their more animals at the zoo than had been registered with the department, but that the origins of animals had been misreported. The discovery resulted in the confiscation of several young elephants.
With revelations from Kanchanaburi’s “Tiger Temple” still reverberating, the evidence uncovered by the Phraya Suea team suggests the illegal trade in wildlife is not confined to any single area of the country.
As a former chief with lengthy experience in combating wildlife smuggling at nearby Kaeng Krachan National Park, Chaiwat suspects that the animals at Hua Hin Zoo were taken from the surrounding forest. He cites previous cases in which wild elephants in areas under his jurisdiction were killed so that smugglers could take baby elephants from the herds.
Although proof of this link has yet to be established, the chief’s concern suggests a strong link between artificial sanctuaries like zoos and the health of wildlife in the natural environment.
In fact, wildlife conservationists have long recognised that the two environments are inter-linked and as such require integrated management to ensure effective wildlife management.
The incidents in Kanchanaburi and Prachuap Khiri Khan offer strong and troubling evidence of major flaws in the management of both our pools of wildlife. Especially troubling is that supposed animal sanctuaries are apparently encouraging the poaching of wildlife, thus plundering the country’s treasure of biodiversity for private gain.
This problem has persisted for years and yet little has been done until now to bring management of these sanctuaries up to a standard demanded by conservationists. Instead a blind eye has been turned and for too long.
The two operations by authorities this week offer hope that we might now see changes, with more scrutiny and higher benchmarks applied to the management of wildlife both in captivity and in the wild.
Without such an integrated perspective, our country’s treasure store of bio-diversity is at risk – a fact we will be reminded of with each new shocking discovery.