CONSERVATIONISTS and fishermen in Trang province have denied claims that dugong hunters are active in the area. They have demanded that Thanya Netithammakun, who heads the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation, either substantiate the claims with evidence or provide further explanation.
The claims, they said, tarnished their credibility despite their ongoing and serious efforts to protect wildlife and the environment in the area.
Earlier, Thanya said dugongs were hunted and killed for their meat, tusks and bones. Dugong meat is sold as food at Bt150 per kilogram, and tusks and bones are used for amulet making, he said.
Thanya also claimed that dugong meat was available on Libong island, upsetting the network of conservation groups and local fishermen in Trang. Libong is a part of the province.
The locals say that dugong hunting has not existed in the area since 1993.
“We have strongly opposed such hunting. During the past 20 years, we have never seen anyone hunting dugongs in our province’s seawaters,” a local conservationist said.
He said that local dugong population had been shrinking in recent years only because of illegal fishing tools. According to him, more than five dugongs sustained fatal wounds from fishing tools each year in Trang.
If Thanya really had evidence to support his claims, the locals wanted him to take action against those involved in dugong hunting, he said. At the Save Andaman Foundation in Trang, Aren Phrakong – who chairs the Trang Fishermen Network – lamented that Thanya had hurt the morale of local conservationists who had worked hard to protect dugongs.
“Actually, we have worked together with every local family in keeping dugongs safe,” he said.
Aren said Thanya should not raise allegations without any solid proof.
According to him, aerial surveys showed there were 169 dugongs in seas off Trang in April last year – up from 120 a decade ago.
“We will convene a meeting among local fishermen’s networks before issuing our official stance to demand that relevant authorities take responsibility,” Aren said.
He said local networks felt legal enforcement was lax.
Aren said his group might invite Thanya to visit Trang province and see what local networks had done to protect dugongs.