New findings from a three-month investigation have revealed that professional gangs were dispatched across Thailand’s borders to target the Kingdom’s wild tigers.
Freeland, a Bangkok-based international non-governmental organisation working in Asia on environmental conservation and human rights, on Tuesday congratulated Thai authorities for making this discovery and already arresting one of the gangs.
The investigation was initiated after the successful arrest of two Vietnamese men by Thai police in late October following a tip-off from a Thai driver-for-hire.
The driver had been travelling between the west-central towns of Tak and Phitsanulok when he considered the baggage belonging to two foreign customers to be suspicious, so he called the police.
Police officers stopped the vehicle, inspected the bag, and discovered a fresh tiger skeleton inside.
Thai police inspect the remains of a poached tiger.
They arrested the owners of the bag, took the suspects and the tiger remains to Nakhon Sawan police station, and inspected the suspects' belongings, including their phones.
Police then contacted Freeland for analytical assistance.
The NGO’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 in the Kingdom'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 poachers’ first time in Thailand, and we have reason to believe they were planning to strike again,” said Sangchai, director of Freeland-Thailand.
Following the discovery of the gang and the 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, adding, “Police, rangers and the public must remain vigilant.”
Freeland is now trying to create an information exchange to suppress cross-border poaching and trafficking, which it believes extends to the criminal exploitation of rosewood trees.