Thai policeman honored for fighting wildlife trafficking
Corruption is one reason that criminals who traffic in wildlife and endangered species are able to evade arrest, destroy the environment and rake in billions of dollars every year. But one Thai police officer earned international recognition last week for his honesty, effectiveness and dedication in battling trafficking. Police Major General Kiattipong Khaosamang, deputy commander of the Natural Resources and Environmental Crime Suppression Division since 2007, was one of the winners of the 2013 Clark R. Bavin Wildlife Law Enforcement Award given by the forensics unit of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. In 2012, Gen. Kiattipong shut down a warehouse in Ayutthaya from which an estimated 1.2 million tons of animal carcasses were being shipped to black markets in Thailand and abroad and arrested members of that trafficking gang. It was just one of several successful raids and arrests of traffickers led by Gen. Kiattipong in recent years.
In bestowing the award, CITES Secretary-General John Scanlon said Gen. Kiattipong “has been waging a war on wildlife traffickers and corruption with success but at great risk to his own life. His efforts are reforming Thailand from a wildlife trade hub into a leader in wildlife conservation. Mr. Khaosamang and his team are making it more difficult for criminals to traffic wildlife through Thailand. He has led several successful wildlife law enforcement operations against international syndicates trading in tigers, ivory, and exotic animals. These and other cases dismantled powerful criminal networks and resulted in the seizure of tons of wildlife products, arrests, and successful prosecutions. His passion, skill and dedication for his work have positively influenced many of Thailand’s wildlife law enforcement officers.”
Gen. Kiattipong spoke with Thailand Focus after winning the Clark R. Bavin Award.
Q: What do you consider your greatest success in fighting wildlife trafficking?
A: Raising consciousness among the Thai public. That is the most important thing. Maybe it won’t be raised enough among my generation, but we have to do this for the benefit of later generations. Also, I have helped convince the National Parks Department to increase the budget for reforestation so our wildlife will have a larger habitat.
Q: Sale of endangered species has been going on despite raids and crackdowns. Why is it so hard to stop?
A: Sellers are using more sophisticated techniques and there are many ways to make a deal. They don’t display the endangered species openly at the market. They show customers a catalogue, and they can even be ordered online. We need more officers to keep up with the traffickers. We have been having increasing success at Suvarnabhumi (International) Airport. We’ve stopped many shipments of animals before they were able to leave Thailand.
Q: What needs to be done to end wildlife trafficking in Thailand?
A: This needs to be higher on our national agenda, because it is everybody’s problem. We need political will to enforce government policies consistently and continually. We need to raise consciousness among the Thai people. Students are now being given tablet computers at school. The Ministry of Education should include lessons with them on nature and the environment instead of games. We all have to work together on this. This can’t be left to just one department or police division. We have been getting pressure from foreign countries and the issue is getting some national attention, and those are good things because it takes an international effort and cooperation to stop this problem.
Q: How do you feel about winning the award?
A: I am delighted, but I hope it will help everybody realize how important the ecosystem is to us all. Thai people may be starting to realize that this problem is serious and harmful to our way of life. It’s a real problem in the real world. We should change our perceptions and do more to balance the needs of society and nature, be more aware and work to prevent a disaster before it happens.