Last month, Thai authorities arrested a man at Bangkok’s international airport after discovering baby leopards, panthers, bears and monkeys in the small crates he had stuffed inside his suitcases. See the article here. According to the Freeland Foundation, an anti-trafficking group based in Thailand, the animals had been drugged and stuffed inside so they couldn't move around. If he had made it to Dubai, the trafficker’s intended destination, he might have procured up to $5,000 for each animal from wealthy Middle Easterners who scour the black market for exotic pets.
This is just the most recent incidence of a flourishing $10 billion enterprise making the smuggling of rare, exotic animals one of the most lucrative illegal businesses – second only to drugs and weapons smuggling. Though wildlife smuggling is international in scope, Thailand is a hub for wildlife smuggling operations, which generated an estimated $15 million in 2011 alone according to the U.S Embassy in Bangkok. Despite international and local laws designed to crack down on the illegal trade, Thai authorities consistently report finding live animals and animal parts – commonly those of endangered or threatened species -- in travelers’ luggage.
Knocked unconscious and jammed into small, often airless, compartments - rare leopards, panthers, a bears, tortoises and monkeys arrive at Bangkok’s international airport from places like Burma, Laos and Cambodia. Smugglers then transport the animals to countries such as Dubai where wealthy patrons’ desire exotic pets. Additionally, the caviar of rare fish, reptile skins and items made of ivory are also traded to Chinese markets for traditional medicine and consumption at high-end eateries.
The Thai government has attempted to curb the rampant trade – Suwit Khunkitti, Thailand’s Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, created a multi-country, multi-agency organization bringing police and customs agencies together with natural resources officials to crack down on illegal wildlife trading. But sadly, this black market lives on. Currently, under Thai law, the maximum fine for an animal trafficking offense is a mere U.S. $1,600 – that’s small pocket change in comparison to a whopping $16,000 that a gibbons, a rare monkey species, might guarantee.
The international community must come together to demand that Thailand commit to putting a stop to these smuggling rings. Please sign the petition demanding that Thai Environment Minister enact two essential measures in order to save helpless animals from the clutches of wildlife smuggling criminals:
- Provide training for appropriate airport authorities in order to identify vulnerable species
- Raise the penalties for offenders in order to discourage this vile practice