Thailand launches smart patrols to stop wildlife smuggling

In its continuing efforts to eliminate wildlife trafficking, Thai authorities will adopt a “smart patrol” system along a section of its border with Laos that is considered a hot spot for smuggling of endangered species, ivory trafficking and other wildlife crimes, government officials said last week.

“By cooperating closely with all related agencies we will clean up the country’s negative image as an illicit trading hub for wildlife. We are confident of good results,” said Somkiat Soontornpitakkool, director of the Division of Wild Fauna and Flora Protection at the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP).

The smart patrol system will rely on greater and more extensive use of a global positioning system (GPS). It will allow officials to more closely monitor the movements of smugglers and poachers, and to communicate quickly with police, the military and other relevant enforcement agencies to dispatch teams to areas where crimes are taking place.

The DNP decided to employ the smart patrol system along the border after using it successfully in at the HuaiKha Kheang Wildlife Sanctuary in Uthai Thani province and the Thung Yai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary in Kanchanaburi province, among others.

Because of its role as a transportation hub, long porous borders and proximity to countries that are major consumers of illicit wildlife, Thailand is considered a lynchpin in the fight against wildlife trafficking in the region.

The Kingdom has taken several steps in recent years to add more muscle to its campaign against traffickers, strengthening laws and enforcement and working with a variety of partners to improve the national response.

Thailand was a driving force in the founding of ASEAN-WEN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Wildlife Enforcement Network), which works with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), Interpol, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), and civil society groups such as Freeland Foundation and TRAFFIC.

The 45-mile stretch of border that will be the focus of the new smart patrols runs along the Mekong River in the province of Mukdahan opposite Savannakhet province in Laos.

The wildlife department will work closely with the Lao government and receive financial support from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Somkiat said.
“This is not an issue that can be handled unilaterally,” he said.

A crackdown at 40 checkpoints nationwide has netted 131 cases over the past three years with hundreds of smugglers prosecuted. Somkiat said that many wildlife traffickers have diverted their routes from passing through Thailand to using nearby countries instead.