Khao Yai National Park Thailand, 1st February 2019 – Hot on the heels of an unprecedented rush of wildlife trafficking cases in Thailand - officials from 5 protected areas across the Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai World Heritage site joined a forest crime investigations course between January 28th to February 1st, 2019. Nature is under siege from transnational wildlife crime syndicates and the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation want to ensure the wildlife of this landscape does not fall prey to these gangs.
Consisting of senior staff responsible for wildlife protection, participants convened to learn about the latest counter wildlife trafficking techniques, including; investigations, effective interviewing, crime scene analysis, innovative technology, forensic evidence collection including DNA and the management of evidence. After the theory of these topics field scenarios solidified practices during real-world situations in the pristine forests of Khao Yai.
Asian elephants, big cats, pangolins and high-value timber such as Siamese Rosewood remain the target of well-organized trafficking gangs with international connections. Both wildlife and high-value timber are being increasingly poached, as scarcity increases their value. Endangered species sourced in Thailand are trafficked into markets across Southeast Asia and China for their rarity value as trophies, paying little regard to the future of the wildlife or the ecosystems in which they reside. Luxury furniture from Siamese rosewood, ivory ornaments, exotic culinary dishes made from pangolins, traditional medicine and even purely for speculative reasons, are driving species closer to extinction at an alarming rate.
Much attention has been paid to catching wildlife criminals, but, to the detriment in Thailand’s forests - once wildlife has been removed from its forest home, it is almost impossible to put it back. Merely catching traffickers is not the answer – effective protection systems must be put in place to act as deterrents to poachers-hoping to make an easy kill.
With officials coming together from several parks and countries, including Cambodia and Laos, participants-built trust and friendships conducive to sharing information long after this course has finished. Consequently, Park-based law enforcement is now better equipped to tackle the criminal syndicates that are exploiting weaknesses to plunder natures dwindling wildlife populations.
One of the participants in the course stated, “This training course served as an excellent opportunity for us to learn more about law enforcement, as our role as park managers is changing and increasingly, we are being expected to conduct preliminary investigations in wildlife cases. I have seen several high-profile poaching cases come into the media and I am sure it will not be long before I am expected to prepare a solid case against poachers myself and I want to make sure I get it right.”
The sponsor of this training event was the UK Embassy to Thailand and the councilor overseeing the UK governments counter illegal wildlife trade activities in the region was on hand to see the course himself and to meet the participants. Mr. Andrew Beirne stated, “Regional and international collaboration is essential for effective counter wildlife trafficking and Thailand is becoming a leader in anti-poaching and counter wildlife trafficking efforts. Events such as this training clearly demonstrate the resolve, we have to jointly bring organized criminality under control’’
This DETECT Forest investigations training course has been designed specifically to address the busy workloads of senior park officials and concisely introduces them to the complex modern world of law enforcement. Freeland’s executive Director Petcharat Sangchai, a retired Police Major General, personally oversaw implementation of the course and was able to harness the skills of expert instructors from the Royal Thai Police. This local language training, coupled with cutting-edge concepts in investigations was a two-way exchange of ideas and awareness too, as instructors were able to interact with participants and learn about the daily challenges, they face protecting wildlife. Police Major General Petcharat was adamant this is just the start of putting contemporary law enforcement into the hands of the guardians of the forest