Organized crime and corruption in Asian endangered wildlife trade

Featured - August 16th, 2012

Behind the wildlife trade is a web of players that is more complicated than a game of cops and robbers. Thailand is one of the busiest transit hubs for illegal wildlife trade. Over the past two years, Thai and foreign officers have been cracking down on different kinds of smuggled animals cramped in their luggage. But they claim that on most days, it feels like they’re going on a wild-goose chase.

In recent years, the smuggling of rhino horn and elephant tusks threatened the two endangered animals to extinction. According to AP, most trafficked animal parts end up in China, the world’s number one consumer, for their supposed medicinal or aphrodisiac properties. Thousands of birds are poached to Singapore while tigers are also slaughtered for their parts. Hundreds of conservation groups are working alongside governments under the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in pursuit of illegal traders.

However, kingpins remain elusive because their men infiltrated the police force. “The syndicates, like all organized crime are built like a pyramid. We can capture the small guys, but at the top they have money, the best lawyers, protection. What are we going to do?” retired police general Chanvut Vajrabukka told AP.

Still, there are honest officers who are dedicated to the pursuit of the people behind the high-profile illegal trade. Wildlife activist Steven Galster applauded the region’s commitment to root out wildlife trafficking but warned that wildlife could soon disappear if corruption is not addressed.