By ELAINE KURTENBACH . May 28, 2021
FILE - In this Dec. 20, 2019, file photo, Cola, 10-year-old female orangutan waits in a cage to be sent back to Indonesia at a Suvarnabhumi Airport in a collaborative effort to combat the illicit wildlife trade in Bangkok, Thailand. Thailand is ramping up efforts to curb trade in wildlife to help reduce the risk of future pandemics, officials said Thursday, May 27, 2021, though it was unclear whether that would mean an end to all sales of exotic species in the wildlife trafficking hub. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit, File).
BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand is ramping up efforts to curb trade in wildlife to help reduce the risk of future pandemics, officials said Thursday, though it was unclear whether that would mean an end to all such sales in the wildlife trafficking hub.
The government intends to make Thailand “free of the legal wildlife trade” while also combatting illegal trafficking in wild animals, Minister for Natural Resources and the Environment Waravut Silpa-archa said Thursday.
Speaking in pre-recorded addresses, Silpa-archa and other officials said the pandemic has raised the urgency of shutting down the supply chain of wildlife and game meat that may harbor pathogens that cause COVID-19, Ebola and other illnesses in people.
The motto for the campaign, he said, is, “Stop disease and extinctions: Never eat, buy, hunt or sell wildlife.”
Since the minister delivered his remarks remotely, it was not possible to ask if authorities plan to shutter markets that still sell a variety of animal species, even in downtown Bangkok.
Some markets are closed, at least for now, as Thailand grapples with its worst wave of coronavirus illnesses since the pandemic began. The first case outside of China surfaced in Bangkok, but the number of infections remained low until this April, when cases surged despite strict quarantines for people entering the country.
Officials, meanwhile, are turning their attention to preventing future crises linked to the spread of diseases from animals to people. Thailand has one of the strongest enforcement regimes in the region, at least on paper.
The minimum fine for trafficking in protected species is $9,000, together with imprisonment of more than 10 years, Silpa-archa said at a seminar hosted by the anti-trafficking group Freeland at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand.