The Supreme Court displayed a higher standard in the protection of wildlife as it upheld a lower court's decision to sentence construction tycoon Premchai Karnasuta to three years and two months in prison over his wildlife crime conviction, according to academics.
The former president of Italian-Thai Development Plc and three of his staff were arrested on Feb 4, 2018, for allegedly hunting wildlife at the protected Thungyai Naresuan Sanctuary in Kanchanaburi.
Carcasses of animals, including that of a black leopard, along with guns and bullets were found at his camping site.
The group was permitted to enter the sanctuary after Premchai's request to study wildlife in the pristine forest was granted.
The shooting of a black leopard by Premchai's gang caused outrage among the public. Many people demanded justice for the dead animal.
A court on March 19, 2019, sentenced Premchai to two years and four months in prison.
But the sentence was increased to two years and 14 months by the Appeal Court after the attorney-general requested a stronger punishment. He was also fined 2 million baht for poaching wildlife in a protected area.
Naris Bhumpakphan, lecturer at the Faculty of Forestry, Kasetsart University, said Premchai's case should be regarded as a new standard for wildlife crimes, as scientific evidence, such as DNA verification, was used in court during his trial.
"DNA evidence can be used to prove the culprit's action," Mr Naris said.
"Moreover, the case was scrutinised to ensure wildlife offenders are punished, whether rich or poor."
"However, strong legal action against the culprit is not enough to prevent wildlife crimes in the future," he said.
"All stakeholders should cooperate to protect and preserve wildlife habitats in the long run."
Panudet Kerdmali, secretary-general of the Sueb Nakhasathien Foundation, said the Premchai case has raised awareness about wildlife protection and conservation.
The public needs to see habitats protected as they are part of the country's heritage that is valuable to the next generation, Mr Panudet said.
He said the foundation and the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation have been working closely with 14 communities in the Thungyai Naresuan Sanctuary to protect the forest.
Mr Panudet noted that good progress is being made in land demarcation efforts to classify residential and wildlife zones.
However, forest encroachment is still being seen in some areas, he said, adding additional patrols are needed to prevent it.
"We need to see proper management to reduce harmful contact between man and wildlife in the future," Mr Panudet said.
"It is another challenging job to save the wild."
He said local communities understand the issue and have worked hard to conserve wildlife, adding their members appreciate the court verdict in the Premchai case because hunting wildlife should not happen in a protected area.
Mr Panudet said the officials should aim to increase the size of the sanctuary by incorporating an old mining area in Kanchanaburi's Sangkhla Buri, covering 100,000 rai of fertile forest, into the sanctuary.
Sompoj Maneerat, ex-spokesman for the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation, said the verdict has rallied forest officials who have a clear mission to protect and preserve wildlife and their habitats.