NEW YORK (July 14, 2011)—“The Wildlife Conservation Society commends the actions of the government of Thailand in the recent arrest of tiger poachers operating in the Western Forest Complex, one of Thailand’s most important protected areas and a critical landscape for tigers and other wildlife. The arrests are the latest achievement of a year-long operation known as the SMART patrol, a systematic, evidence-based adaptive management program designed to increase monitoring and enforcement in areas important to conservation.
A few weeks ago, park rangers patrolling the forests came face to face with a group of poachers, an encounter that led to gunfire. The poachers soon fled, retreating back into the forest and leaving some of their belongings behind. One of the items was a cell phone filled with images that would help government officials and park rangers build a case against the illegal hunters. The rangers also found other evidence of poaching, including animal body parts and insecticides that are sometimes used to poison tigers.
Eventually, two poachers were arrested. A third poacher was tracked to his home, but was able to escape the authorities before being apprehended. Interestingly, the cell phone images proved invaluable in disproving the accounts of the captured poachers. When confronted with “trophy” images of themselves posing over a dead tiger, the suspects claimed the big cat was poached in Myanmar in 2003. According to WCS Thailand staff, however, the tiger (identified by its unique stripe patterns) was a well-known male tiger that researchers had tracked with camera traps in Thailand for at least three years between 2008-2011. The database of tiger images not only helps researchers understand the ecological needs of tigers, but also gives law enforcement an important resource in successfully prosecuting illegal hunters. The cell phone images also contained evidence that the poachers were involved in the elephant ivory trade as well.
The individuals apprehended by Thailand officials are suspected to have killed as many as 10 tigers in the region. They are also involved in an organized crime ring that WCS and other partners have been tracking in this region for the past year. However, such work comes with great risk to the park rangers working on the frontlines of enforcement; one officer was shot in a nearby community on Friday in what is believed to be retaliation for the recent poaching arrests. The ranger remains in serious condition in the hospital. Nevertheless, the arrests are a great victory for the government of Thailand, which has become a leader in SMART patrol methodologies and enforcement.”
Stephen Sautner: (1-718-220-3682; firstname.lastname@example.org) John Delaney: (1-718-220-3275; email@example.com)