By Thomas Fuller
Thailand wants to shed its image as a place where many types of wildlife — turtles from Madagascar, marmoset monkeys from South America, baby sun bears, exotic birds — are for sale, an international trade driven by the global market in exotic meats and rare pets.
Over the past two years, officials here have captured more than 46,000 animals from traffickers, vendors and trappers, more than double the 18,000 seized the two previous years.
But now the government faces the quandary of what to do with all the creatures it has saved — a sort of Noah’s ark of endangered species, except that this ark would most likely sink under the weight of all the elephants, tigers, bears and monkeys.
“The more we arrest, the more animals we have to take care of,” said Theerapat Prayurasiddhi, deputy director general of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation.
While many say that porous borders, corruption and lax enforcement remain problems, the crackdown comes as Thailand is set to host a major meeting in March to discuss the main international agreement on trafficking, the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
The burden of taking care of seized animals was underlined in October, when 16 malnourished tiger cubs were recovered from the back of a smuggler’s truck. Caretakers at the Khao Pratubchang Wildlife Breeding Center here in Ratchaburi Province have been overwhelmed by the 24-hour care and the specialized food and medicine the cubs require.
“It’s like having a child — there are so many details,” said Sathit Pinkul, the head of the center. “You always have to be around when they are hungry,” he said, imitating the meow of a needy cub. “We’ve become their personal attendants.” More....