Biggest Asian wildlife traffickers are untouchable

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Thailand’s decades-old wildlife law also awaits revision and the closing of loopholes, such as the lack of protection for African elephants, and far stiffer penalties.

“The bottom line is that if wildlife traffickers are not treated as serious criminals in Southeast Asia we are just going to lose more wildlife,” says Chris Shepherd, TRAFFIC’s Southeast Asia deputy director. “How often is anyone arrested? They just run off, they must be the fastest people on Earth.”

Chalida Phungravee, who heads the cargo customs bureau at Suvarnabhumi, says just the sheer scale makes her job difficult. The airport each year handles 45 million passengers and 3 million tons of cargo, only some 3 percent of which is X-rayed on arrival. The main customs warehouse is the size of 27 football fields.

But seizures are made, she said, including boxes of tusks _ the remnants of some 50 felled elephants _ aboard a recent Kenya Airlines flight declared as handicrafts and addressed to a nonexistent company.

“We have cut down a lot on corruption. It still exists but remains minimal,” she said, citing recent computerization which has created a space _ dubbed “the Green Line” _ between customs officials, cargo and traffickers.

Galster says unlike the past, traffickers are no longer guaranteed safe passage, describing a daily battle at Suvarnabhumi with “undercover officers monitoring corrupt ones and smugglers trying to outwit them all.”

Such increased enforcement efforts in the region have slowed decimation of endangered species, he says, “but there is still a crash going on. If corruption is not tackled soon, you can say goodbye to Asia’s tigers, elephants and a whole host of other animals.”

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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