Police arrest Thai man caught smuggling four tiger cubs from Laos

Thai police said they arrested a Thai man on Tuesday caught smuggling four 2-month-old tiger cubs and attempting to sell them for U.S.$42,000.


Thanad Wongsarm, 63, will be charged with trafficking endangered wildlife, which is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a 1 million baht (U.S.$27,000) fine.


He was caught by undercover police officers who tried to buy the cubs from Thanad, who initially asked for 500,000 baht (US$14,000) each, said Torsak Sukvimol, deputy chief of Thailand’s National Police Department. The deputy chief did not clarify how the police initially contacted the suspect.


After some negotiating, the suspect agreed to sell all four cubs for the price of three – 1.5 million baht, or about U.S.$42,000, Torsak said. Thanad then agreed to meet the undercover officers at a gas station in the Thai border town of Mukdahan, where he was arrested.


While trafficking tigers is illegal in Laos, the country has a long history of cubs being sold outside of the country to buyers looking for exotic animals. In January 2021, Chinese and Lao customs officials met in a virtual forum to address the escalating issue of wildlife trafficking across their shared borders.


There are no more wild tigers in the forests of Laos, a member of a Laos-based conservation group who asked to remain anonymous told Radio Free Asia, but that there were some tigers in mini zoos or tiger farms in the country, including one such farm in a casino in the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone, in northern Laos.


“Those four cubs must’ve been smuggled from these places to Thailand,” said the conservation official, who asked not to be identified for security reasons.


“Of course, trafficking tigers is illegal in Laos,” he said. “There are no more tigers in the wild [in Laos] but some individuals might have permission to raise these wildlife animals.”


A resident of Laos’s northwestern Bokeo Province, which borders Thailand’s Chiang Rai province, said there are about five tiger farms in Laos, including one in the Kings Romans Casino in the Golden Triangle SEZ.


“The DNA of all tigers in the farms are registered with the authorities,” he said. “So the four tiger cubs seized in Thailand can be traced back to which farm in Laos they were from.”


Tiger smuggling has cropped up from time to time in Laos. In 2018, authorities in Khammouane province found the bodies of three tigers, with traffickers later admitting that they were planning on smuggling the tigers to Vietnam.


In 2019, the owner of an illegal tiger farm, where cubs were raised for trafficking, was shot dead in an apparent business dispute, renewing international concern about the spread of the business.


Thai police said they need to do more investigation into the incident before notifying Lao authorities.


The four tiger cubs will be sent to the Chulaporn Wildlife Breeding Station in Thailand’s Sisaket Province, police said.


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