Following a three-month investigation, Thai officials are warning that organized crime gangs that are dispatched across borders are targeting the endangered wild tigers in Thailand and Malaysia.
According to Freeland Foundation, a frontline counter-trafficking organization working for a world that is free of wildlife trafficking and human slavery, Thai authorities have arrested one of many gangs.
The investigation was initiated after the successful arrest of two Vietnamese males by Thai Police in October 2018 following a tip-off from a Thai driver-for-hire.
The observant driver, who was taking the men from the western town of Tak to Pitsanalok, thought the baggage was suspicious, so he called the police who subsequently stopped the vehicle, inspected the bag, and discovered a fresh tiger skeleton inside.
The police arrested the owners of the bag, took the suspects and tiger remains to the Nakorn Sawan Police station, and inspected the suspects’ belongings, including their phones.
Police then contacted Freeland for analytical assistance.
Freeland’s forensics experts were dispatched to the scene and provided on-the-job training. Using Cellebrite digital forensics technology, police found evidence that the poaching coordinators, originating from Vietnam, had crossed Laos into Thailand to sponsor targeted hunting inside the forests of Thailand and Malaysia, and possibly Myanmar. The poachers documented their trips on their phones, including tiger kills.
Freeland believes the poachers were working on assignment from a Vietnamese criminal syndicate.
“We do not think this was the poacher’s or poaching coordinators’ first time in Thailand, or working together, and we have reason to believe they were planning to strike again,” Petcharat Sangchai, Director of Freeland-Thailand said in a statement.
Following the discovery of the gang and poached tiger, Thai rangers were put on high alert.
“This gang has been removed as a threat, but we should be aware that whoever employed them may dispatch more hunters to kill our country’s tigers,” said Sanchai. “Police, rangers, and the public must remain vigilant.”
Tragically, there are only an estimated 2,500 tigers remaining in the wild.