Thap Lan National Park Rosewood and Wildlife Poacher Arrests Surpass 200 Since Beginning of 2016 Under Global Park Defense Prog
A group of 35 Cambodian and Thai rosewood poachers arrested in August 2016 (Photo by Prasit Tangprasert)
Over 200 Cambodian and Thai rosewood poachers have been arrested in sting operations conducted by Thap Lan World Heritage park authorities and joint government forces so far this year.
Park authorities in Thap Lan confirmed that poachers are coming across from Cambodia in unprecedented numbers, gauged by the volume of arrests and numbers of poachers recorded by camera traps.
Utilizing Global Park Defense technologies – SMART Patrols, invisible cellular cameras, informant networks, GPS tracking, and advanced ranger and intelligence training, Thap Lan World Heritage park authorities have made life much more difficult for the poachers destroying Thailand’s last intact forests and wildlife habitats.
Global Conservation has partnered with WCS Thailand to provide critical training and equipment to the Thai Park Service at Thap Lan as a model Global Park Defense program to achieve ‘No Cut, No Kill’ protection of this unique and priceless national park.
The joint government force is comprised of district police, personnel from the 3rd Artillery Battalion of the 2nd Army, officials of the Thap Lan National Park, and officials from the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC).
From interrogations of arrested poacher groups, the police learned that thousands of Cambodian migrants are being sent across the border by a timber smuggling rings whose members comprised both Thais and Cambodians, to cut and remove Siamese rosewood trees from Thap Lan National Park.
Officials from the combined government force interdicted one poacher group using an arrested poacher’s truck and two other vehicles to pick up the Cambodian poachers, while others were deployed around the area to intercept poachers in case they tried to escape. At the rendezvous, the Cambodian poachers, who hid in the forest, ran to the two vehicles with their belongings, not knowing they had been trapped. Found in their possession were parts of chainsaws they used to fell trees and survival gear.
The group of 35 poachers had been in the forest for about a week and cut and smuggled out 50 large panels of rosewood. Police are proceeding with the investigation to find all members of the timber smuggling ring, including the higher-up leaders.
Surging Chinese demand for so-called “red timbers”—Tamalan, Padauk, Siamese rosewood—has fueled the destruction of forests across Southeast Asia’s backcountry and now threatens to drive some tree species to extinction.
Thap Lan and adjoining parks—part of a complex that has UNESCO World Heritage status—are home to everything from black bears and crocodiles to elephants and tigers. Nearly 150 bird species have been documented in Thap Lan alone, including the green imperial pigeon and stork-billed kingfisher. By cutting down trees and hunting for bush meat, timber thieves are threatening one of the most biodiverse corners of Asia.
Linked to multinational criminal syndicates that have systematically clear-cut swathes of neighboring Cambodia, the logging gangs operating in Thailand are well armed, coordinated, and prepared to kill. In 2014, seven Thai rangers died in gun battles with illegal loggers. Two more were killed in a late-night ambush following a November raid on an illegal logging site.
Photo by Jason Motlagh
“These trees belong to our people,” said Morokot, who first came to Thap Lan as a tourist and was so moved by the richness of the place that he applied for a job to protect it. Now he’s one of dozens of rangers who patrol the 860-square-mile (2,235 square kilometers) reserve, teams so ill-equipped that some men don’t even have guns, and bullets are always in short supply.
As timber elsewhere in Thailand runs out, loggers are making more brazen incursions deep into Thap Lan to steal the most prized timber of all: Siamese rosewood. With its darkly rich hues, density, and fine grain, rosewood has long been a favorite in China, where it’s carved into elaborate furniture and religious statues known as hongmu, an antique style that originated centuries ago.
Reproduction hongmu furniture has become a status symbol of China’s new rich. A 2011 report by the Environmental Investigation Agency, a U.K.-based NGO, says demand for Ming and Qing dynasty-era replica products soared in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and has stayed high. Prices hover around $20,000 a ton, with some varieties spiking as high as $80,000.
Wichai Pomleesansumon, the park’s superintendent, says Cambodian poachers operating inside Thap Lan National Park have been helped out with arms and logistics support from members of the Cambodian military.
Sources: Financial Times, Bangkok Post
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