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Smuggler caught with 16 Tiger Cubs

Posted By Brendan Moyle On October 29, 2012 @ 12:25 pm In Environment and Ecology | No Comments

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A colleague drew my attention to this story out of Thailand
BBC-News Thailand [2]

The story is principally about a truck-driver, paid to smuggle 16 tiger cubs from Thailand into Laos. The driver was caught when he attempted to avoid a police checkpoint. With 16 cubs, it is practically certain these same from a 'breeding facility' within Thailand. Tigers can produce 4 cubs in a litter but less is also common. Getting 16 cubs from the wild within Thailand would involve a very serious effort in search, risks of mortality in transporting cubs out of the wild, and risks of being caught within the reserves. It would be much easier and less risky to get the cubs from a captive source. Such animals would also be more familiar with people and hence, more sedate to transport.

The interception is indicative of two enforcement issues. First, crossing borders is the riskiest aspect of the illegal supply chain. From an economic perspective, the 'black-market firm' is better placed to pass this risk on to people who are willing to bear it at a lower price. The driver said he'd been paid 15,000 baht ($US 490 or £300) for the job. The second is that the size of the shipment (16 live animals) shows that enforcement agencies are being ineffective. A good sign that enforcement is effective is reductions in shipment size. This is the easiest thing for smugglers to do to reduce their risks. It does inflate their other costs (fewer units transported each trip drives up the average costs). So, the fact they are making large shipments here mean that they have little to worry about from law enforcement.

The story implies that the cubs are being smuggled for parts for traditional medicines. This seems unlikely. It would be much easier to kill the tigers within Thailand and transport the parts in a more cryptic way. This would also mean the smugglers did not have live animals to care for and feed for the duration of the trip. I suspect the most likely explanation is that this is the nucleus for a 'tiger farm' within Laos. Thailand and Vietnam are known to have breeding of tigers occurring in 'commercial quantities'. This may now be a reflection of the attempt to do the same within Laos. With actual wild tiger numbers in Indo-China being critically low, captive sources of tigers are much easier to locate and transport.

This also means that the CITES resolutions that call upon certain range states to end such breeding is largely being ignored.

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[2] BBC-News Thailand: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-20111464#story_continues_1

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