BANGKOK, September 12, 2016 – The ranks of an elite ranger group in eastern Thailand have been bolstered by a two-week training course designed to keep them and the areas they patrol safe.
Protecting the country’s natural heritage can be a dangerous job. This year, among the 14 Thai rangers who have lost their lives in the line of duty, four have been killed by poachers.
One of the main flashpoints in this battle is the Dong-Phayen Khao Yai Forest Complex in Eastern Thailand, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site home to iconic species such as elephants and tigers. The area is also rich in Siamese Rosewood, an expensive hardwood in high demand among the affluent in China. The demand is fueling rampant poaching by armed gangs funded by organized criminal syndicates.
To combat this increasing threat to wildlife, timber and the rangers that protect them, last year Thailand’s Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) worked with counter-trafficking organization Freeland to create and train a Rapid Response Unit. Dubbed Hasadin, which is derived from the Sanskrit word for “elephant,” the elite team of rangers has been trained to quickly respond to threats throughout the forest complex, which covers 615,000 hectares spread across seven provinces.
During the recent course, Hasadin bolstered their ranks by training 24 more rangers who will now join the team and the fray. With support from Freeland, the new team members were taught advanced counter-poaching tactics. They also learned how to teach the course themselves, so they can instruct their fellow rangers. In keeping with this policy, all the instructors were graduates of previous Freeland courses.
Highlighting the constant threat that poachers pose in this protected area, during the course, two of the instructors were called away to apprehend a gang. In a single day, the rangers arrested 42 poachers.
Hasadin’s commander, Wichai Pornleesaengsuwan, who is also the Director of the DNP’s 1st Protected Area Regional Office in Prachinburi, said, “We are working hard to protect this World Heritage Site and to address the rosewood poaching situation. Part of our strategy is to ensure our rangers receive advanced training and to put systems in place that allow us to respond quickly to threats. Hasadin and Freeland’s training are helping us accomplish this. I see more progress on the horizon as the unit expands.”
Despite Siamese rosewood being protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species in Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the species remains vulnerable to exploitation. A loophole remains which permits trade of finished pieces such as furniture and certain timber products. As the 183 government signatories to CITES meet for the 17th Conference of Parties in South Africa from September 24 to October 5, many conservationists hope that this loophole will be closed.
One way or another, the outcome will have repercussions for Thailand’s rangers and this increasingly rare hardwood species. Wichai defined the stance of Hasadin and the DNP. “We are hopeful that Siamese rosewood will receive greater protection at the upcoming CITES meeting. We need to do everything we can to save this species and safeguard the rangers who protect it.”
For more information and photos, please contact: Matthew Pritchett, Director of Communications, Freeland, firstname.lastname@example.org
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Note to editors:
Freeland supported the PROTECT – Rapid Response Unit Training Course, an intense two-week, competency-based training activity designed to give enforcement officers the skills to become team players on a rapid response unit like Hasadin. The course teaches basic to advanced ranger skills, stresses teamwork and instills discipline. Participants also learn how to implement training activities and give instructions in a classroom and field environment. Financial support for the course was provide by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Asian Elephant Conservation Fund, the Thin Green Line Foundation and the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation.
Freeland is a frontline counter-trafficking organization working for a world that is free of wildlife trafficking and human slavery. Our team of law enforcement, development and communications specialists work alongside partners in Asia, Africa and the Americas to build capacity, raise awareness, strengthen networks and promote good governance to protect critical ecosystems and vulnerable people. Freeland is also the lead implementing partner of “ARREST” (Asia’s Regional Response to Endangered Species Trafficking), the largest US Government sponsored counter-wildlife trafficking program. For more info, visit www.freeland.org also; follow Freeland on twitter @FREELANDpeople or www.facebook.com/freelandfoundation.