Hemantha Abeywardena writes from London…
At first glance, even the most curious quintessential operator of the X-ray machines at Suvarnabumi Airport in Thailand, may have spotted nothing more than a pair of toy cubs, huddling up inside an unsuspecting hand luggage.
And for the woman passenger whom the swish item belonged to, it must have been a nail-biting waiting before plan-B was put into action, had the plan-A failed at the hand of customs officials. The detection of the subtle motion of one ‘toy’, amalgamated both the observation of a man and aspiration of a woman into a global news item - to amuse and then generate revulsion among a world-wide audience.
Piyawan Palasarn, aged 30, the Thai woman in question, was about to board a flight to Tehran from Bangkok on Thursday, when her plan went into disarray by the discovery. When the custom officials opened the luggage, the bedraggled tiger cub was gasping for breath after being drugged for the meticulously planned smuggling operation.
On being caught, the woman did exactly what any failed smuggler would do in similar circumstances – to protest her innocence while blaming a non-existent entity on handing down the package for transportation. However, the explanation, quite rightly, did cut very little ice with the authorities and she faces a jail term and a hefty fine for the horrible offence.
In Thailand, the entrepreneurial spirit sometimes can elevate itself to a sufficient height above the prevailing Buddhist moral code so that it can watch and then dictate the latter while watching a myriad of marketing trends. The risky attempt by this particular Thai woman to earn some extra baht from a lucrative deal just reflects the existence of dangerous undercurrents beneath the seemingly pious atmosphere blended with exotic charm, in Thailand.
For Thailand, a country often accused of associating with dubious arms dealers – the folks who are not in the business of promoting non-violence in line with the religion of the land - the botched smuggling attempt did not come at a worse time, especially, when it makes attempts to repair its battered image; at present, it is at loggerheads with Russia for succumbing to US pressure in extraditing a Russian arms dealer.
The problem is that most Thais stubbornly refuse to travel along the middle-path laid out in Buddhism as if they were scared of being run over! So, in this context, their tendency to embrace the extremes on either side is understandable.
The woman and her collaborators may have thought that the inextricable association of cute facsimile pets with the milder human species – women - may have provided perfect cover for the operation. To amplify the sentiment, they may have even placed an additional similar-looking cub next to the real cub while pulling wool over the custom officials’ eyes. It shows the potential for stupidity even in a carefully-planned operation; even masterminds can’t always claim the monopoly for ingenuity.
Next to the cub were a milk bottle and some Xanax pills – a medication for treating anxiety or depression in human beings, something used as a form of tranquilizer in this case. At the time of the discovery, the poor creature had been forced to swallow 10 pills. The chemical may have lowered the metabolic rate of the normally hyperactive cub - but the value was nowhere near zero to dupe the customs. They could spot a pattern of movement that ultimately led to the arrest of the woman.
Although Ms Palasarn pointed the finger at a third partry, CCTV cameras have clearly recorded her arrival on her own at the airport. So, her attempt to drag an unknown element into the saga has failed in its tracks. Since she is charged with two wildlife offences, she risks going to jail for four years or 40000 baht fine, if convicted.
At the moment, the lucky cub is in care at a wild life clinic run by National Parks. The vets have come up with a plan to feed the cub on cat milk, as it was similar to that of its feline heavyweights.
The news spread like wildfire as the plight of the Asian tiger grabbed headlines recently at the hands of poachers. The loss of habitat has made the situation even worse.
MS Palasarn may have made an attempt to earn 100000 baht from the racket by taking the hapless animal to Iran, a place that has an insatiable appetite for exotic pets. Although, it was a failure in fiscal sense, she has certainly rekindled the moral of the folk who grabbed the proverbial tiger by the tail – no perfect escape for anyone who deals with tigers!
- Asian Tribune -