By Janet Raloff
Web edition : 4:56 pm
High on the no-fly listThis cub was rescued from a checked bag in Bangkok. It had been headed for Iran.TRAFFIC
On August 22, airport security officials in Bangkok detected something suspicious in an oversize suitcase. X rays indicated that along with stuffed animals, the bag contained bones. Indeed, they belonged to a tranquilized two-month-old tiger. The bag, which had been checked by a 31-year old Thai woman, had been en route to Iran.
The cargo was confiscated and the cub is now under the protection of Thailand’s Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation, according to TRAFFIC International, a British-based conservation group committed to shutting down international trade in threatened and endangered species. DNA testing of the animal is currently underway to determine its subspecies, which may offer clues to whether it had been poached from the wild or reared in captivity.
Whatever its source, the cub could not be moved legally across national borders; the International Union for the Conservation of Nature has classified all tigers as endangered, which prohibits their movement in commercial international trade.
Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi International Airport hosts flights that move some 30 million people each year. It’s also been a major hub for Asian wildlife smuggling. According to the U.S. Agency for International Development, wildlife traffickers attempted to ship more than 1,000 snakes and turtles through Suvarnabhumi, just last year alone.
The transshipment of wildlife through Bangkok is one reason U.S. AID has provided financial backing for training of security officers and police as part of a “Wildlife Trafficking Stops Here” campaign at this airport. Earlier this year, some 250 individuals took part in the training.
“TRAFFIC is glad to see these training programs pay off in seizures, arrests and continued vigilance at the airport,” notes Chris Shepherd, regional director for the conservation group in Southeast Asia. However, he adds, the fact that people think they can move wildlife through checked baggage suggests “they obviously think wildlife smuggling is something easy to get away with.” The remedy, he argues, will be more aggressive monitoring and far tougher penalties for scofflaws.