Thai, Viet gangs 'involved in elephant, rhino poaching'

national March 05, 2013 00:00

By Pongphon Sarnsamak
The Nation

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Thai and Vietnamese criminal gangs are involved in the illegal poaching of elephants and rhinos in Africa, according to the state wildlife and plant protection agency.

Individuals are hired for about US$500 (Bt15000) per trip to carry rhino horns and ivory from Africa to Thailand via African airlines.

They are also offered free air tickets from Africa to Thailand and Vietnam, according to the Natural Resources and Environment Crime Suppression Division's commander Maj-General Norasak Hemnithi.

Once they arrive at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport, they often leave their luggage on a trolley at a blind-spot area inside the airport. The trolley and luggage are later picked up by corrupt officials or police who take them outside the airport and transport them to countries like Vietnam and China, according to Norasak.

Meanwhile, those who carried the rhino horn or ivory from Africa immediately took another flight to Vietnam after having already left their luggage at Suvarnabhumi Airport.

Norasak said some traffickers had transferred wildlife by car from Suvarnabhumi Airport to Vietnam via Nakhon Phanom province and Laos.

Others had put ivory tusks and rhino horns in containers and transferred them from Malaysia, entering into Thailand through Songkhla province's Sadao district. Some traffickers have connections with a private zoo in Chaiyaphum province.

“China is the main destination for the illegal wildlife trade,” he said.

National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department deputy director Theerapat Prayurasiddhi said Thailand was classified as a major transit and destination country for illegal wildlife trade – especially ivory, ivory products, and rhino horn from Africa.

Meanwhile, Africa, Kenya, and Congo are known as the countries of origin for wildlife and wildlife product exports to other countries, particularly destinations in China and Vietnam.

“ We found that Thai people have been involved in the illegal ivory trade from Africa. Some were hired to carry the ivory and some had imported it into Kingdom by themselves,” he said.

Freeland Foundation’s senior programmes officer, Bussara Tirakalyapan, said her foundation also found that Thai and Vietnamese criminal gangs were involved in the illegal wildlife trade, especially rhino horn from Africa via Thailand, or to the Middle East or a third country.

She said rhino horn was the most wanted animal part for traffickers because consumers believed that taking rhino horn would enhance and treat sexual dysfunction.

“Some mix rhino horn with cocaine to enhance sexual function and some use it as a cosmetic,” she said.

To control international wildlife crime across the world, the International Criminal Police Organisation (ICPO) and 10 nations, including South Africa, Ivory Coast, Vietnam, EU, US and Thailand yesterday convened talks. The illegal wildlife trade across the world is worth more than Bt100 billion. African elephant, rhino horns, and tigers are the most wanted wildlife for the illegal trade, for zoos, and circuses.

The meeting was at the 16th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, known as CITES. Delegates worked to come up with guidelines to curb this international wildlife crime.

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