The remains of over 250 dead African elephants were seized by Thai Customs on April 25 as they were being smuggled in bags marked “tea leaves” from Mombasa Port, Kenya on their way to Laos, via Singapore and Thailand. Information was gathered on the exporter, ships used, and the importer, as well as some of their legitimate business connections to companies based in South Asia and Africa. This week’s seizure followed another one of 739 tusks announced last week, also the result of diligent enforcement work by Thai Customs.
“There is enough information from these latest two seizures to help investigators follow the trail and start to dismantle these syndicates,” said Steven Galster, Director of the counter trafficking organization, Freeland, which provides technical assistance to the ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network (ASEAN-WEN), whose secretariat is based in Bangkok. “ASEAN-WEN was set up to combat this exact kind of crime, but the cooperation of each country involved in the smuggling trail is vital,” he added.
Information provided to Freeland indicates that Laos is still being used as a major transit for illicit wildlife to Vietnam and China, including this latest shipment.
The 10th Annual ASEAN-WEN Meeting is scheduled for May 6 and 7 in Brunei where cross border wildlife enforcement cooperation will be assessed by all 10 Southeast Asian nations for areas of improvement. “We need to move beyond the seizure of wildlife body parts to the seizure of wildlife traffickers and their assets,” Galster added. “Seizures represent the start of an investigation, not the successful completion of one.”
Freeland has launched a joint training program with shipping and airline companies to empower them to join the fight against wildlife trafficking. “Wildlife Friendly Skies” and “Wildlife Friendly Shipping” events are being rolled out in Thailand, Vietnam and China this year.