Thailand hits traffickers in wildlife & dog meat
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, December 2003:
BANGKOK–Thai national police raided two major zoos, seized
33,000 animals from suspected poachers and wildlife traffickers, and
arrested bunchers for Laotian and Vietnamese dog meat vendors as well
during the first six weeks of an unprecedented national crackdown on
illegal animal sales.
Caught in the dragnet were three major exhibition venues:
Safari World Inc., raided on November 22 and found to be missing 14
tigers supposed to be on its inventory; the Si Racha Tiger Farm,
raided on November 27; and the Phuket Fantasea theme park, owned by
Safari World Inc., where the 14 missing tigers were discovered on
Among many other discrepancies in animal inventories, Safari
World, claiming 44 orangutans, actually had 115, officials said.
As orangutans are not native to Thailand, some of them are believed
to have been illegally imported from Malaysia and Indonesia.
Called to account for allegedly improperly authorizing the
export of 100 tigers to the Sunya Zoo in China, owned by the Si
Racha Tiger Farm, was Plodprasop Suraswadi, permanent secretary of
the Thai federal ministry of natural resources and the environment.
Siri Wangboonkerd, a Bangkok member of the Thai parliament,
told news media that Plodprasop issued documents describing the tiger
export as an exchange program, without mentioning what was exchanged
or when the tigers would be returned to Thailand, and valuing each
tiger at less than 20% of the going Thai rates for live tigers.
The going rates were reportedly easily established because
police found evidence that Thai dealers have been exporting 10-15
tigers per day.
Ironically, Plodprasop himself was prominently quoted about
the weaknesses of Thai wildlife law enforcement when the raids began.
“It’s time to amend the law,” Plodprasop said. “Those who
kill wildlife, particularly the big and important animals, deserve
the death penalty.”
The crackdown was royally requested.
King Bhumibol Aduladej, 76, who adopted a street dog in
1998 and later wrote a book about her, called in his November 2002
birthday speech for better treatment of street dogs and elephants.
Although the King rules only ceremonially, public officials
made efforts to comply. At request of the King, the Thai national
police trained 25 street dogs for various official duties, as a test
to see if they could perform as well as purpose-bred dogs. Eight of
the former street dogs did so well that they were among the elite
force deployed to the Bangkok Inter-national Airport to provide
security during the mid-October 2003 Asia Pacific Economic
Unimpressed, Bangkok governor Samak Sundaravej tried to
evict street dogs from the Bangkok historic district before the APEC
summit. Trucked into the countryside and dumped by the hundred,
most of the dogs reportedly made their way back to their
neighborhoods before the summit ended.
Irritated meanwhile by out-of-work ex-logging elephants
illegally roaming Bangkok with begging mahouts, Sundaravej told the
Bangkok Post in early December that, “I would like to ask the prime
minister if we could shoot the beasts if they are brought into
Bangkok, so the mahouts would not dare to do it again.”
As elephants are the national symbols of Thailand, and a
white elephant is the personal emblem of the King, Sundaravej is
unlikely to have his wish granted–especially not by present Prime
Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who with police Major General Sawake
Pinsinchai has directed the ongoing series of animal trafficking
searches, seizures, and arrests.
Prime Minister Thaksin has prominently denounced animal
trafficking as immoral, “especially if the animals are to be killed
Initiative of the Queen
While the King raised a strong voice for animals, the
immediate inspiration for the raids on animal dealers actually came
from Queen Sirikit, 73, in her August 2003 birthday speech, Sawake
told Pennapa Hongthon of The Nation.
“My name means ‘a servant of the royal court,” Sawake said.
“It is a pleasure to follow the Queen’s initiative.”
Sawake admitted, however, that initially he did not take
wildlife trafficking nearly as seriously as he did after leading the
first raid. At an illegal slaughterhouse in the Sai Noi district
of Nonthaburi, a Bangkok suburb, the raiders found six live tigers,
two orangutans, four frozen tiger carcasses, 21 bear paws, the
remains of countless snakes, turtles, pangolins, and other small
animals, and the skull of a highly endangered sao la, a goat-like
animal whose existence was unknown to science until May 1992.
“We are one of the biggest animal smuggling centers in the
world,” Sawake acknowledged to Ellen Nagashima of the Washington
Post foreign service–30 years after then-Thai resident Shirley
McGreal founded the International Primate Protection League to try to
stop the traffic.
The IPPL long since moved to South Carolina, where it is
among the most effective voices worldwide against wildlife
trafficking, but McGreal has often noted that in Thailand the same
markets and dealers she confronted remained in business, bigger than
Steven Galster, cofounder of the San Francisco-based
organization WildAid, was hopeful that the late 2003 Thai crackdown
would mark a turning point.
“I don’t know of any other country in the world that has
mobilized their national police force to hit wildlife traders,”
Galster told Nagashima.
Dealers were warned
Both the wildlife traffickers and the dog meat dealers were
warned well in advance that the crackdown was coming, but may have
mistaken the warnings for a suggestion, not unprecedented, that
they should pay bigger bribes.
Sakhon Nakhon provincial governor Panchai Borvornratanapran,
taking office in June 2003, pledged six weeks before the Queen’s
birthday speech that he would abolish the sale and slaughter of dogs
Offensive to most Thais, and practiced mainly by ethnic
Chinese refugees from Vietnam, dog slaughter has long been
controversial in Thailand, but an estimated 17 dog meat slaughter
houses in the Tha Rae district reputedly kill 300-400 dogs per day.
Dogs are also routinely collected by bunchers, who sometimes buy
them and sometimes steal them, for export to Vietnam, Laos, and
Governor Panchai reportedly waffled after a July protest by
about 300 Tha Rae dog meat traders, butchers, and their families.
They were backed by a survey done by Governor Panchai’s staff which
showed that 79% of Tha Rae villagers favor the dog meat industry and
that 63% eat dog meat. After the Queen’s speech, however, Governor
Panchai called the survey unrepresentative and said he would be
guided by a broader sampling of public opinion.
By August 24 the Tha Rae dog meat dealers were howling that
new taxes on dog sales had cut their business by about 40%.
Farther north, however, it was still business as usual.
As the wildlife trafficking raids started, at the end of
October, activist Rossukhon Jarassri told The Nation of Bangkok that
as many as 30,000 dogs had been captured for winter slaughter.
“I would like to beg for their lives,” said Phra Pornpisit
Thammatharo, abbot of the Wat Sawang Arom temple near Chiang Mai.
Four nights later 30 police officers and Livestock Department
officials seized 802 dogs from cages aboard four fishing boats
anchored in the Mekong River in Ban Phaeng district. Seven alleged
bunchers were arrested just as they were about to shove off for the
short crossing to Laos. The dogs, many of them injured or ill,
were to have been hauled through Laos to Vietnam, Livestock
Department inspector Apai Sutthisang told reporters.
Despite the publicity surrounding that bust, which was
probably the biggest in the history of dog meat trafficking, buncher
Kalong Imboonsu, 56, and two unidentified accomplices from the
Kusuman district in Sakon Nakhon went out on November 12 to trade
plastic utensils for dogs, advertising their offer through a
loudspeaker mounted on their pickup truck. They had done this often
before with impunity. This time they were jailed.
Amnesty preceded busts
Both Thailand and India offered persons in possession of
contraband wildlife or wildlife products the opportunity to register
them during a mid-2003 four-month amnesty.
Expiring on September 9, the Thai amnesty brought the
registration of 1.1 million live animals, including half a million
birds, kept by 127,478 people.
The first Indian state to report results from the amnesty was
Uttar Pradesh, where residents registered 518 shahtoosh shawls, 325
leopard and tiger skins, 387 ivory items, 24 live elephants, 13
lions, and eight blackbucks.
Both amnesties were criticized by wildlife advocates as
potential stimuli for poaching, since any animal products poached
before the end of the amnesties could be registered. In addition,
traffickers could register animals and products not actually in their
possession, then claim that animals and products obtained later were
registered during the amnesties.
When all was quiet on the wildlife front for the first seven
weeks after the Thai amnesty expired, there were whispers that it
had been just a gesture toward improving wildlife law enforcement,
and a weak one at that.
Then the raids began.