Unseen killers are wildlife's worst enemies

Unseen killers are wildlife's worst enemies

One suspect has been charged with poaching, but construction tycoon Premchai Kanasutra is not the only threat to Thai wildlife.
One suspect has been charged with poaching, but construction tycoon Premchai Kanasutra is not the only threat to Thai wildlife.

Unquestionably, construction tycoon Premchai Karnasuta is the man of the moment. His name is on everyone's lips, after he and three of his entourage were arrested and charged with poaching in Unesco's World Heritage Thungyai Naresuan wildlife sanctuary on Feb 4.

Although the investigation is ongoing, the whole of society has already handed them their verdict. University students mockingly wore black panther masks in a symbolic protest against the death of the Indochinese leopard allegedly shot by the suspects. A hotel owner in Phitsanulok put up a banner curse the embattled Italian-Thai Development president. Signs bearing his company's name were sprayed with vitriolic words.

The Royal Forestry Department (RFD) and police have expanded their probes, digging up an old forest encroachment case from 2003 involving a company with links to Mr Premchai which was accused of illegally occupying 6,000 rai of forest area in Loei's Phu Ruea district.

Anchalee Kongrut writes about the environment in the Life section, Bangkok Post.

Personally, I am bemused with the public frenzy over this case. Please don't get me wrong, I, like everyone else want to see justice served in a fair manner.

But I wonder whether this high-profile poaching case will see real social transformation towards protecting nature. It would be a pity if the collective angst surrounding it proves just a flash in the pan that blew up because one of the suspects is rich and famous and the offence was so blatant.

If so, people will forget when the case fades from the media spotlight. The case against Mr Premchai is likely to be time consuming. Look no further than the court case against a group of policemen who were punished for poaching and killing protected wildlife in Kaeng Krachan National Park in 2012. It took five years to complete and all they received was a 10-month jail term.

For me, this latest poaching case in Thungyai Naresuan sanctuary is just the tip of the iceberg that shows the precarious situation regarding wildlife.

If the scene of a stunningly beautiful Indochinese leopard lying shot dead and skinned in its natural habitat has already made you angry, statistics on wildlife poaching in sanctuaries across the nation should make you cry.

Between 2009-2016, 42,492 case were reported of poaching in national parks and wildlife sanctuaries, with more than 5,420 people arrested and 106,988 animals killed. That latter number could be far higher with many cases probably having gone unreported.

These animals were not only hunted for food or as trophies. Many were killed or captured as part of the lucrative wildlife trafficking industry for the black market. There are reasons to believe hunting will intensify given that the Mekong Sub-Region has become an epicentre for wildlife trafficking, with Thailand serving as a logistics hub.

There are reports that the Golden Triangle -- the area where Thailand shares borders with Myanmar and Laos and which is also known for the heroin trade -- has become a new stomping ground for wildlife traffickers. Drug dealers are now diversifying by selling wild animals or their parts to serve an ever-increasing demand for Chinese traditional medicines -- elixirs of wellness for rich Asian people.

But threats to wildlife do not only come from hunters, fans of exotic pets and practitioners of Chinese traditional medicine. Development is a major threat too. Do not forget that the real legacy of Seub Nakhasathien was not that he committed suicide and died so young in what was thought to be a show of despair with bureaucracy; it was his leading role in a fierce protest against the controversial Nam Chon Dam project that would have flooded parts of the Thungyai Naresuan sanctuary.

Calling himself a guardian of wildlife, Sueb knew wild animals would have died en masse if the forest was submerged for the dam.

A few years ago, well-known conservationist Sasin Chalermlarp went on a walkathon to protest against a plan to construct the Mae Wong Dam in the national park of the same name. One of his reasons was to protect tigers living in the park which is known as a buffer zone for the Huai Kha Kaeng wildlife sanctuary. Conservationists and ecologists know well that mega-construction projects can wipe out wild animals from forests. Their impacts are many times worse than that of hunters and poachers.

It's not just guns and weapons that pose a threat to these animals. There are some intangible factors like cultural beliefs, values, naivete or simple ignorance that can contribute to wildlife loss.

After all, the most feared "hunters" are always the ones we cannot see.

Anchalee Kongrut

Editorial pages editor

Anchalee Kongrut is Bangkok Post's editorial pages editor.

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