Arrest of “Kingpin” Tiger Trafficker Highlights Thailand’s Resolve


Thailand is a hub for some of the world’s largest wildlife trafficking operations. That’s why news of a series of recent busts — from elephant ivory to live tigers and bears — is especially welcome. These wildlife law enforcement operations signal that Thailand is becoming an increasingly hostile place to do this black market business.

Earlier this month (in the early morning hours of May 13, 2011), Thai officers at Bangkok’s international airport arrested a 36-year-old man, Noor Mahmoodr, from the United Arab Emirates who was bound for Dubai with suitcases filled with two leopard cubs, two panthers, one Asiatic black bear and two macaque monkeys. In August 2011, Thai authorities found a tiger cub that had been sedated and hidden alongside a stuffed toy tiger in the suitcase of a Thai woman flying to Iran. And, in between, Thai officials have been busy apprehending numerous ivory traffickers.


Yesterday, the Royal Thai Police Nature Crime Division apprehended an alleged kingpin, Sudjai Chanthawong, in what could be the country’s largest tiger trafficking ring. According to Steve Galster of the FREELAND Foundationan anti-wildlife-and-human trafficking group based in Thailand, the suspect is accused of protecting and financing a gang thought “to be responsible for moving up to 1,000 tigers and leopards across the border into Laos and Vietnam in the past decade.” Police believe this network uses these land routes for tigers whose final destinations are buyers in China.


Authorities had searched for this 49-year-old Thai man since last year, when they issued a warrant for his arrest after seizing a Bengal tiger cub (named Sylvia, who is now about 1.5 years old and weighs 220 pounds) during a separate operation. That sting is included in a four-part National Geographic TV documentary series, called “Crimes Against Nature,” that is premiering across Asia this week.


Sudjai was arrested after police “followed the money” and confirmed his bank account was used to accept payments for that tiger cub. According to an article on Monsters and Critics, FREELAND believes the ring is run by a Thai-Vietnamese woman who is married to a senior Thai police officer and is headquartered in Thailand’s Chaiyaphum province. Galster also said the gang is also known to have connections with senior military officer in neighbouring Laos.