Along with a monkey, gibbon, and bear, two sedated leopard cubs were found in an Emirati man’s suitcase at the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Thailand. All of the animals were younger than two months old. Referred to as NM, the man was preparing to board a flight to Dubai when authorities searched his luggage and discovered the live animals. He was arrested and then released on bail the same day.
According to the National, this case is unusual because the animals were found alive. Whereas Asian countries smuggle in exotic species for food, Gulf buyers typically buy them to keep in their private collections or zoos, or to breed them.
Last year, a man was caught trying to smuggle rare falcons to the United Arab Emirates, and world renowned wildlife film-maker Karl Ammann talked to Green Prophet about the challenges of combating wildlife trafficking in the Middle East.
But regulating wildlife trafficking, it turns out, is not only challenging in the Middle East. Steve Glaston, who is the Director of Freeland, a US-funded non profit organization told the paper that NM faces up to four years in jail and a fine of roughly $1,300. But traffickers rarely actually serve time, he added.
Thailand is considered a major hub for trafficking because there are many wildlife centers or zoos where breeding programs can take place. The Thai Nature Crime Police were likely tracking the man long before he arrived at the airport, where the animals were delivered to him.
A spotted and black leopard were also discovered in other suitcases that did not belong to the Emirati man, but the whereabouts of their owner is not known. Most leopards are listed as “near-threatened” on the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species, though they have likely gone extinct in many places where they once occurred (including Egypt.)
What was NM thinking, you ask? Live leopards and bears in suitcases? Amman said in our interview that as long as the benefit (money) outweighs the risks (getting prosecuted), wildlife trafficking is unlikely to end. The leopards and bears would each have cost $4,000, so the benefits are sizable. Let’s make the risks even more so.
:: The National
More on Illegal Wildlife Trafficking in the Middle East:
image via MacJewell