March 11, 2009 - 8:24PM
Thailand's authorities are calling on Australia to provide greater financial support and training in the regional fight against the multi-billion dollar illegal wildlife trade.
The call for support comes as senior wildlife investigators say Australian criminal gangs are targeting Bangkok's main international airport in the trafficking of birds.
The investigation is one of several underway through the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) wildlife enforcement network (ASEAN-WEN) that combines regional police forces with the backing of international law enforcement operations such as Interpol.
ASEAN-WEN estimates the global trade in illegal wildlife trafficking is worth between $US10 billion ($A15.5 billion) to $US20 billion ($A31 billion) annually.
Steve Galster, animal conservationist and chief of party under the ASEAN-WEN program, said the Australian gangs appeared to be focusing on bird trafficking.
"We know about some (Australians) that are involved in bird trafficking, for example," Galster said.
But the investigations underway prevented him from providing more details, he said.
"It's just one of those issues like human trafficking and others where every country is represented (in the trade) to some degree."
The investigation follows the recent arrest of a 24-year-old Sydney man for allegedly attempting to smuggle 44 native reptiles through Sydney airport on a flight bound for Bangkok.
Australian Customs and Border Protection said the reptiles included three Black Headed Pythons and one Albino Carpet Python - both endangered species.
Thailand's Minister for Natural Resources and the Environment, Suvit Khunkitti, called on Australia to support the regional efforts in combating the illegal wildlife trade, especially through providing expertise.
"I think we will need all the support we can get because not only Thailand (is) training people, training law enforcement and agencies concerned, but regional training is also important," Suvit told AAP.
Suvit attended the launch of a new training program for 250 airport staff and logistics workers at Bangkok's international airport to raise skills in policing and awareness of animal trafficking.
He said steps should be taken to increase regional cooperation beyond the 10-member ASEAN countries to include Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan and Korea.
Thailand's Suvarnabhumi international airport in 2007 handled more than 190,000 international flights, with more than 41 million passengers, together with 1.2 million tonnes of freight and over 10,000 tonnes of mail.
The key sources for animals in the region are the biodiverse rich regions of Indonesia, Burma, Cambodia and Laos.
In the second half of 2008 alone, over 25,000 live animals were saved in the Asian region from smugglers, and over 4.5 tonnes of carcasses were seized by authorities, with over 100 related arrests.
"Volumes are so high to begin with we're still alarmed," Galster said.
"I'm talking tonnes of wild animals. We know that there are thousands of animals being trafficked through airports every day."
The main destination in Asia is China where meat, for example, for the pangolin, a scaly ant eater, fetches $US175 ($A270) a kilogram. Wildlife trafficked through the airport include elephant ivory, endangered turtles and tortoises that come from Madagascar, India or Burma.
Galster called on Australia and New Zealand to provide agents to work with ASEAN-WEN in the region.
© 2009 AAP