Hunting case shows law of the jungle applies

Hunting case shows law of the jungle applies

Paws of a bearcat (aka binturong, civet cat) left, and the black leopard carcass seized from poachers last week and in February respectively. Why do people do this? (Photos courtesy Department of National Parks)
Paws of a bearcat (aka binturong, civet cat) left, and the black leopard carcass seized from poachers last week and in February respectively. Why do people do this? (Photos courtesy Department of National Parks)

After I learned about the arrest of 12 suspects for allegedly poaching an Asian bearcat in Sai Yok National Park last week, I can't help but wonder why wildlife hunting persists in Thailand, where so many people love to cite compassion in accordance with Buddhist belief. The first precept for Buddhists requires that we refrain from killing.

Poaching is a major cause of the declining number of wildlife. Kanchanaburi, with its vast area of protected forest, happens to be a hot spot for poaching. We still remember the Thung Yai hunting case in 1973, in which a group of senior military officers were caught red-handed when their chopper carrying wild animals carcasses crashed. That was during a time when our wildlife was still abundant. Fast forward to this year, when billionaire Premchai Karnasuta, president of the construction giant Italian-Thai Development, was found with the carcass of a black panther at his campsite in the same wildlife sanctuary. There must be several unknown cases where the culprit managed to escape the law.

Paritta Wangkiat is a columnist, Bangkok Post.

The Oct 7 bearcat case is a crime that once again involved state officials. Watcharachai Sameerak, an officer at Kanchanaburi's Dan Makham Tia district, together with his team, was caught with four paws of an Asian bearcat (officially known as a binturong, or civet cat) in one of six of the vehicles said to be part of a "merit-making" convoy at the edge of Sai Yok National Park in Kanchanaburi. Park rangers also found a rifle equipped with a silencer, a pistol and ammunition.

Mr Watcharachai has been discharged from his position while the investigation is underway. Members of the convoy -- which includes defence volunteers Anusorn Ruean-ngam and Sakan Kangluang -- face 10 charges, including wildlife poaching and possessing guns and ammunition without permits.

All deny the charges. Mr Watcharachai claimed that he was not aware the paws and weapons were in the vehicles. They claimed the trip was part of a merit-making journey, in which they visited a monastery within the park's territory.

In the initial investigation, some of the group's members told police that they bought the paws for 100 baht each from a local villager. They also claimed the guns were brought inside the wildlife sanctuary for kae bon -- a practice of making offerings to deities or the Lord Buddha in return for a fulfilled wish. In this case, they said they were to fire gunshots into the sky so the deities would hear the noises as they pledge their offering. At this point, we have to ask why did they bring along a silencer?

It is possible that some of them did not know about the poaching. After being questioned by police, Mr Anusorn retracted his statement and confessed the paws were not bought from a local villager.

Instead, the man claimed, he handed over the rifle to a Myanmar migrant -- identified only as Tata -- who stayed at the monastery and it was Tata who killed the animal.

Mr Anusorn went on to say that another migrant -- identified only as Jira -- accompanied Tata and came back with the paws. According to Mr Anusorn, Jira put the paw in one of the vehicles. Police suspected the bearcat's meat was cooked for a meal.

What I found interesting is the confession made by Tata. The migrant said the two defence volunteers forced him to shoot the animal. Upon meeting at the monastery, the two presented themselves as police officers and ordered him to lead the hunt.

Tata said he had to comply because he feared arrest, due to his undocumented status. If Tata told the truth, this case attests to the fact that this country is plagued with power abuse, with some government officers misusing their authority to exploit those who are vulnerable. At the end, those with power may walk free because of their positions.

Furthermore, they have money to bail themselves out. On Tuesday, Kanchanaburi Provincial Court approved the bail requests for the 12 caravan members, with 200,000 baht each in surety.

Tata was taken to the court on Friday. But, without money, he could not bail himself out. Jira reportedly fled to Myanmar.

The case repeats the same old story. Only people with power and money can obtain the privilege of hunting, albeit illegally.

They can buy guns, pay for the trips, and when something goes wrong, they have the money for bail and may not be in trouble at all. They are now as free as Mr Premchai.

It's interesting how some caravan members tried to link their trip to merit-making. Was it a trick to whitewash themselves as good Buddhists?

In fact, I've encountered a large number of people who have tried to impress me as good Buddhists, but who were really trying to cover up their vices.

Apart from the abuse of one's authority and the power of money, these suspects may think that merit-making can compensate for the sin they have committed. Not to mention the attempt to make others believe that they are in fact, good Buddhists.

But we cannot allow this crime and Mr Premchai's to fade into obscurity. Instead, we must keep the pressure on to ensure that justice runs it course.

Paritta Wangkiat


Paritta Wangkiat is a columnist for the Bangkok Post.

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