A Thai truck driver was caught by police in northern Thailand this weekend with a truck full of endangered tiger cubs. In all, 16 tiger cubs were found in cages in the back of his pick-up truck. He told police he had been paid 15,000 baht ($475) to transport the cubs from one part of the country to another.
The cubs themselves were likely ultimately destined to be smuggled out of the country, probably to China, where they are used in various forms of folk medicine.
The driver, Faren Kongfu, will appear in a Thai court this week and is likely to receive a jail sentence of around four years as well as a large fine.
Unfortunately, Thailand’s underground trade in illegal and endangered wildlife is enormous, with hundreds of millions of dollars made every year in the sale of tigers, elephants tusks, snakes, lizards, crocodiles and many other species of animal and bird.
In Bangkok alone, there are hundreds of places where people in the know can go to pick up the endangered animals they want. Even Chatuchak Weekend Market is a hub for wildlife smugglers, with Thai police occasionally raiding shops and stalls to see if the wildlife they have for sale is legal or not.
The problem is, the Thai police force has a corruption problem with thousands of corrupt Thai police officers working in the force.
So, when you see an actual arrest of someone smuggling wildlife, it is not always as it seems. It can often be simply because he didn’t pay the ‘right person’ to turn a blind eye, or was in competition with another smuggler who had already paid police to ignore his illegal business activities.
The same goes for so-called ‘wildlife smuggling arrests’ at Suvarnabhumi Airport, one of the world’s biggest hubs for the smuggling of endangered wildlife.
While immigration officers are patting themselves on the back in the news media as they have ‘caught’ a gang of smugglers, in reality a much larger smuggling operation is often getting away with it at exactly the same time.
The problem too is, even if Thai police or other governmental officials are honest, they are still working with many in their department who are not. So, even when a sting is about to happen and a smuggler arrested, he will often be tipped off by a corrupt Thai police officer before the arrest can take place.
Unfortunately, this is Thailand. And it is not named as one of the most corrupt countries in the world for nothing.
At least for 16 tiger cubs, though, their story ended up a little happier. Instead of ending up in China destined to be chopped up for some medieval-style Chinese medicine, they are now being taken care of by a wildlife organization in the north of the country.