From the Blog

June 7, 2017

Thailand – Hub for illegal wildlife trafficking

Thailand and especially Bangkok is regarded as one of the biggest wild animal smuggling centers in the world, with wildlife officials calling it, one of the “black holes” of “animal laundering.”


Endangered and trafficked animals

The smuggling of endangered wildlife, both dead and alive, is a billion-dollar global business, second only in size to the illegal arms and drug trades. It has been reported for decades that Thailand serves as a major funnel for this estimated $23bn (£18bn) a year illegal wildlife trade. (UN Environment Programme).


The black market for the animal trade in Thailand

The black market for animal trade is unsurprisingly nondiscriminatory – It is reported Thai border control typically find; rare turtles, tortoises, snakes and lizards and birds that feed demand in China and Vietnam, but that’s only a tip of the ice-burg….. Live tigers, elephants and crocodiles and even rare orchids (see our post the Rise and Fall of Orchids), have made their way across the Kingdom’s borders over the years.

Recent examples include two tourists who were arrested at an airport in Thailand, in Feb 2015, trying to smuggle an incredible 144 exotic animals out of the country. The two Japanese men confessed that they had bought the live animals at the Chatuchak weekend market in Bangkok, for around 44,000 bht. Their haul consisted of 110 turtles, 21 snakes, nine geckos and four wood chucks.

This illicit trade is not new in Thailand, especially concerning the Chatuchak market, in 2006 a reporter for Associated Press wrote: ‘A recent visit to Chatuchak revealed cages of illegal Thai birds known as red-whiskered bulbuls, fish tanks full of endangered, tortoises from Madagascar and furry, mouse-like marsupials from Indonesia called sugar gliders. All were being sold illegally into the international pet trade’.

“Nothing in here is legal,” he added. “No one is checking. If they were checking, how could this place exist?” [Michael Casey, AP, December 23, 2006]


The black market for the animal trade in Thailand

14 White lions along with 1,000 sugar gliders (a type of possum), 12 peacocks and 17 marmosets, were found by Thai police at a warehouse in Bangkok Daily Mail


Corruption – Government Officials

More and more light is being shined on how deep this corruption goes:

Bangkok is not the only gateway. A recent Guardian (UK) national newspaper, reported that the sleepy Thai border town of Nakhon Phanom, in the northeast of the country now serves as a primary gateway on the global animal trafficking highway. ‘Trading many tonnes of elephant tusk, rhino horn and lion bone from Africa and truckloads of tigers, turtles, snakes, monkeys and pangolin anteaters from Asia’.

The article goes on to disclose the corrupt officials that allow this trade to continue and the work of Freeland, a not for profit organization, based in Bangkok, who have previously exposed key players in this trafficking network.


The black market for the animal trade in Thailand 1

Dogs are on their way to the dinning tables of China & Vietnam. Getty images


In a more recent event it was reported in News24, that government officials and police officers were involved in escorting two people through customs, carrying 21 rhino horns worth $500 000, in suitcases at a Bangkok airport. They were only stopped and searched when customs officers became suspicious.


En route to China and America

Thailand and especially Bangkok is regarded as one of the biggest wild animal smuggling centers in the world, with wildlife officials calling it, one of the “black holes” of “animal laundering.”

It is seen as a major transit area for animals on their way from source nations to buyer nations. The chances are whatever animal or animal part you are interested in—whether it be live lemurs, crocodiles, gibbons, orangutan babies, endangered cockatoos, bear paws, or tiger bones…. armed only with the right amount of money, you’ll find it in Bangkok.

Most animals arrive from Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, they are then shipped to: (In order of numbers and value), China, the United States, Japan/South Korea and Europe (mainly Germany).

Smugglers are becoming more and more sophisticated in trying to elude customs but still prefer Snakes and tortoises, simply because they survive long plane trips while monkeys and birds are more fragile. In one case iguanas were hidden, by creating a special compartment in a prosthetic leg


The growing market for endangered species


The black market for the animal trade in Thailand

Pangolin most trafficked animal on earth  Its scales are used in traditional Chinese medicine. Photo: Paul Hilton for WildAid


The species themselves are selected for a range of values. Some for their rare and exotic qualities like an ivory ornament or a snake skin wallet. Others are captured and sold for pseudo-medicinal purposes, such as the bears kept in captivity to harvest their bile, a digestive fluid produced by the liver and stored in the gallbladder. (Powdered Bear Bile in Japan is 4 x the cost of gold).

Illicit wildlife trafficking has increased over the last few years, (some reports have it doubling in value in less than 15 years), despite the combined efforts of the international community, governments and civil society. Urban myths and hype about dubious miraculous cures, from all manner of animal body parts, including cures for cancer and HIV, has meant an ever increasing demand, for endangered species.

In a new twist, it has been reported that some of the worlds, new affluent people, are using animal products as a “hangover cure”.

Rhino horn used as a hangover cure

Rhino Horn is being touted as a hangover cure Credit Lowveld RhinoTrust


Facts & Details, on its web site states: The Internet has been a boon for the exotic animal traders and detriment to threatened species. Among the animals and animal products available on the web are a young giraffes for $15,000, a black leopard for $4,000, a gorilla for $8,131, baby chimpanzees for $60,000, cotton-top tamarinds for $2,500, hawksbill turtle shells for $120, elephant bone sculptures for $18,000, crocodile skin boots, seahorse skeletons, ivory sculptures, and all manner of other products.


Ivory Trade

Thailand should be congratulated, in its stated aims of eradicating the domestic trade in illegal elephant ivory, along with the significant steps it has taken since 2015, which have led to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), revising Thailand’s status from a nation of Primary Concern to Secondary concern. (Ivory Only)

Presently under Thai law, it is legal to buy and sell ivory from Domesticated elephants in Thailand—approx. 13,000 elephants. That’s made Thailand a target country for black market ivory—because it’s difficult to tell the difference between illegal tusks from African elephants….and potentially legal tusks from Asian elephants.

National Geographic reports a hand-held scanner under development by Thai scientists will be able to tell whether ivory comes from an African or Asian elephant. But would this simply mean unscrupulous customs officials abusing the system?


The black market for the animal trade in Thailand 3

Illegal Ivory Burnt in Africa

Would it not be better to follow China’s example?

China in March 2017 stopped the commercial processing and sale of ivory, and have agreed that all registered traders will then be phased out, bringing a full halt to the market by the end of the year. Not bad for a country that had the biggest ivory market in the world – some estimates suggest 70% of the world’s trade ends up there.

What-ever Thailand chooses to do; the world’s population of wild elephants cannot afford to wait for countries to get their houses in order. Central Africa has lost 64 percent of its elephants in a decade. “Ivory-seeking poachers have killed 100,000 African elephants in just three years, according to a new study that provides the first reliable continent-wide estimates of illegal kills. During 2011 alone, roughly one of every twelve African elephants was killed by a poacher’. By Brad Scriber, National Geographic PUBLISHED August 18, 2014


The black market for the animal trade in Thailand 4

One of the largest mass elephant slaughters in decades took place in Bouba Ndjidah National Park, Cameroon, in 2012. Armed with grenades and AK-47s, poachers killed more than 300.

Changing the mind Set of the majority of Thai people

Changing beliefs in people any-where in the world is difficult, no more so in Thailand, with a population that was until pretty recently, predominately agricultural based, and who therefore see Fauna and Flora, differently than the majority of other people— as a commodity and not a luxury.

This is evident in a WFFT article written in 2016; it was reported that three endangered elongated tortoises (Indotestudo elongata), were rescued, after the home owner had already eaten three others that he purchased from the local market.

Another example of how wild animals are seen in Thailand was written by the Nation Newspaper, reporting on the 120 day amnesty for wild animal owners that ended on September 9th 2003, when an astounding, 1.1 million-plus protected animals, were found to be under human care. This figure included: Birds – 548,449… Aquatic animals – 34,541… Tigers – 185… Bears – 125

The article went on to state: The Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plants ‚ said all 127,478 people declaring ownership of wild animals would be subject to checks. Those declaring ownership of wild animals will be allowed to keep them if they can prove they can raise the animals in good condition. To date no records of any checks can be found.

You also have to remember the Thai people have for eons been surrounded by wild animals, some of which have been tamed, from soi dogs, to water buffalo and elephants trained to work the land and to the more recent history of using monkeys to harvest coconuts and rats to search for land mines.

All these animals are seen as tools, with very few being treated as pets, in the western sense, add this to the Thai ability to consume almost every-thing around them, including but not restricted to bugs, frogs, snakes, rats, bats and dogs…… is easy to understand the Thai mentality of, ‘why not capture and sell insects and animals to strangers………. for what-ever strange reason they want them’.


Thai Customs stop Japanese tourist carrying 144 exotic animals. Credit EPA


The effects on Thailand

The 2014, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) reported that while many countries were signed up to CITES, those countries that were naturally home to the desired animals’ blamed the countries that used the animals and vice versa, restricting in part the coordination of action needed to combat this ever increasing problem.

The report went on to high light the other issues that affect countries like Thailand:

‘Although illicit wildlife trafficking is a crime with wide security implications and has well documented links to other forms of illegal trafficking, the financing of rebel groups, corruption and money laundering, the issue is primarily seen as an environmental issue, which puts it low on governments’ agendas.

Illicit wildlife trafficking hinders sustainable social and economic development. The corruption that is associated with illicit wildlife trafficking, and the security threat posed by the often violent nature of illegal wildlife product sourcing, deter investment and hinder growth in source, transit and demand countries. They reduce the effectiveness of governments, deter civil engagement, erode the rule of law, harm the reputation of and trust in the state, and affect the growth of local communities’.

It further goes into one of the least publicized effects: Human Health; many published reports state that nearly 75 per cent of emerging infectious diseases in humans is of animal origin, the majority of which originate in wildlife and that illicit wildlife trafficking increases the risk of global epidemics, such as avian influenza and SARS.

Nothing is said about the damage caused by Invasive Alien Species, that are willingly or mistakenly released into the Kingdom. See our post Aliens of Thailand.

Most if not all of the above affects, have been felt here in the Land of Smiles.


New Guinea Crocodile, native to Papua New Guinea and now can be found wild in Thailand. The male can grow up to a length of 3.5 m.


Thailand – Hub for illegal wildlife trafficking. What can we all do?

Many of us purport to be willing to help, and we all can in our own small way, if you are travelling in Thailand or else-where:

DON’T have photos with wild animals being used as photo props, go to animal shows or visit elephant camps or tiger temples/petting zoos. DO your research! Only visit rescue and rehab centers.

DON’T purchase animal souvenirs, including snake or tiger wine, bush meat, or ivory and other animal products. (Ivory products taken out of the kingdom could lead you to 10 year term in the monkey house. Customs Act B.E. 1926)



It’s pretty simple really “When the buying stops the killing stops too”.

That said the real big changes will only come when governments take note, of what is really happening on their own door step and by taking action, on the bureaucracy and corruption that exists within its own ranks.



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