The evidence for their crime was grim: Two poachers posed proudly over a dead tiger, shotguns in hand. The photo was found on one of the men’s cell phones last summer, damning proof that eventually led to their conviction.
Now, Thailand is hoping to send a new warning to the criminal gangs that continue to pursue the world’s last wild tigers. Thai authorities have sentenced the two poachers, who were arrested in July, to prison.
The sentence was handed down after a lengthy trial. One poacher, a Thai Hmong will serve five years in jail, while the second, a Vietnamese citizen, will serve four. These are the most severe punishments for wildlife poaching ever handed down in Thailand.
The tiger killed last summer was an animal being tracked by WCS conservationists in Thailand’s Western Forest Complex. Researchers were able to confirm its identity by examining the stripe pattern depicted in the cellphone photo—a visual thumbprint unique to each tiger. The poachers had alleged the tiger was shot in neighboring Myanmar, but the matched stripe pattern proved otherwise.
The sentences are the latest achievement of an ongoing operation known as the SMART patrol, a systematic, evidence-based adaptive management program designed to increase monitoring and enforcement in areas important to conservation.
“The jail sentences show that Thailand is serious about stopping poaching of its wildlife,” said Joe Walston, WCS Executive Director for Asia Programs. “WCS commends the dedicated park guards and enforcement personnel who made this conviction a reality.”
Thailand serves as a training ground for guards from other Asian countries seeking to protect their own resources. WCS collaborates with the Thai government in the training of enforcement staff from China, Nepal, India, Myanmar, Bhutan, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, and Indonesia.
Last December, WCS released incredible camera trap video footage of a rich gallery of wildlife from the forests of Thailand confirming that anti-poaching efforts are paying off.
WCS work in Thailand is supported by the Multinational Species Conservation Funds of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Department of State, Liz Claiborne and Art Ortenberg Foundation, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation's Save the Tiger Fund, Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, The Cattail Fund, and other private donors.