Producers for ABC News with Diane Sawyer interviewed me on Friday (May 13, 2011) for a piece they were doing that night on live animal trafficking. They reported a recent bust at Thailand’s Bangkok airport of a man from UAE who smuggled a “virtual zoo” of live animals. Discovered in this first-class passenger’s suitcase were two leopard cubs, two panther cubs, an Asiatic black bear and two macaque monkeys. 

The animals had been sedated, with some in flat cages so they couldn’t move around and others inside canisters with air holes.

While Thailand is a hub for illegal wildlife trafficking, discovering smuggled live mammals is unusual. Rather, wildlife products or live reptiles (rare turtles, snakes and lizards) are more typical finds. In fact, last month, Thai customs officials seized 1,800 protected lizards destined to be sold as food.

Steve Galster of the Freeland Foundation noted that, in Thailand, leopards and panthers would fetch about $5,000 a piece on the black market but that their value in Dubai is presumably higher. It’s unknown if the animals were going to be resold or kept as exotic pets.

Notable about this story is that it shows the success of wildlife law enforcement. Thai authorities have been making a number of large busts in recent months. That’s a result of more training and attention to this issue. In this case, authorities had the smuggler under surveillance from the time he bought the animals from a Thailand market. 

For the ABC World News piece, while I wasn’t on air they did use some of the information I provided. It’s very nice to see that more attention is given to this important issue. The next step will be paying attention when the animals aren’t so cute and cuddly.