A TIMELY police crackdown on a gang involved in transnational wildlife smuggling yielded more than 1,600 pieces of bear claws and tiger parts that were about to be smuggled into Laos.
Laotian Katai Sisuwan, 28, Thai Thammanoon Kongdee, 44, Thai Warapong Panjam, 58, and Vietnam national Nguyen Wan Herb, 39, were arrested, police told a press conference yesterday morning.
Katai Sisuwan was arrested on Saturday after investigators received a tip-off about an attempt to smuggle wildlife parts to Laos via the international Bangkok-Pakse bus route, Royal Thai Police Deputy Commander General Chalermkiet Srivorakarn said.
Police stopped the bus at Amphoe Wang Noi in Ayutthaya province for a search and found a bag containing animal parts and bones inside. Experts later revealed that there were four tiger bones and 1,666 pieces of bear claws, possibly belonging to over 83 Asian black bears, a protected species. The haul was estimated to be worth more than Bt8 million, he added.
The bag belonged to the bus driver – Laotian national Kratai Sisuwan – who confessed he had received it from a Vietnamese man called Min. He said he had been commissioned to hand it over to a Laotian male customer, aged about 30, who was waiting for him in Pakse.
His arrest led to the arrest of other members of the smuggling network, which also included Warapong and Nguyen, who packed the bag and facilitated the transportation for Kratai. Thammanoon reportedly collected the animal parts for them. Police also confiscated other animals like a hawksbill sea turtle and a green turtle from his house.
After Thammanoon received the goods from his sources, he handed them over to Warapong and Nguyen to pack them in the bag. He assigned Kratai, who works as a bus driver, to deliver it to a customer in a third country.
Investigation revealed that the claws were meant for making amulets, as people believed they could protect wearers from harm. They could be sold for Bt700 each and after they were made into jewellery and amulets they could be sold for as much as Bt8,000 to Bt10,000. Tiger bones were intended for use in traditional medicine.
Police said the four men confessed to their crime and were charged with possessing carcasses of protected or reserved wild animals without permission and concealing, selling or transporting carcasses of protected or reserved wild animals.
The group had allegedly engaged in smuggling more than 10 times and also had links to online wildlife traffickers in many provinces in Thailand as well as Laos, Vietnam and China.
Police will continue the investigation to bring those related to the gang to prosecution.