Syndicates target Kuala Perlis to traffic wildlife to China

BANGKOK: Due to its strategic location, the sleepy seaside town of Kuala Perlis is luring wildlife smuggling syndicates to one of its routes to traffic a variety of exotic animals to China.

From the jungles in Indonesia, these exotic animals including pangolins and even orang utan endure an arduous journey across the seas to Kuala Perlis, Padang Besar, Hatyai and Laos – to reach their main destination, China.

"The syndicates choose the Padang Besar route because it is the closest route from Indonesia to Thailand. They (the wildlife traffickers) travel by boat from Indonesia to the Kuala Perlis port in Malaysia and then to Thailand.

"(Kuala Perlis) is about 40km from the Padang Besar border," Padang Besar Customs Service Division director Arthit Visuttismajarn told Bernama recently, on the proximity of Kuala Perlis with the Thai-Malaysia border.

Nevertheless, he cautioned that Kuala Perlis-Padang Besar was just one of the many smuggling routes taken by the syndicates to send their 'goods' to China, to satisfy the country's burgeoning demand for exotic animals.

According to him, should the traffickers succeed in crossing the Malaysia-Thai border in Padang Besar, the exotic animals will be handed to other members of the syndicates in Hatyai, who will take it to the Thai-Laos border and to China.

Hatyai is an important transit route for wildlife smuggling syndicates.

Thai Customs officials have identified about 11 "risky points" along the 12km stretch of the Thai-Malaysian border separating Perlis and the Sadao district of Songkla, which have been used by smugglers of wildlife, and as a result, have increased monitoring.

Arthit said on June 7, his men managed to stop the smuggling of endangered turtles and rare coral at the border.

However, the biggest seizure of exotic wildlife was on July 21 this year at the Padang Besar Immigration Checkpoint when the authorities stopped a Malaysian-registered pick-up truck transporting various types of endangered animals including a pair of two-month-old orang utan, hidden inside a suitcase.

Other exotic animal seized from the vehicle were the endangered Hamilton tortoises, Indian Star tortoises and six raccoons, said Arthit, adding that a 63-year-old Malaysian driver was detained for questioning.

The Malaysian, who faces 10 years in prison upon conviction had alleged he was paid to send the animals to another man in Hatyai.

Meanwhile on Aug 31 in the Prachuab Khiri Khan province, Thai Customs seized 136 pangolins and 450kg of the animal's scales which were alleged to have been originated from Indonesia and smuggled into Thailand via Malaysia.

The endangered animals and its scales which were meant for use in traditional Chinese medicine were destined for China, according to customs officials.

According to Arthit, the Padang Besar customs unit had seized more than 500 pangolins at the border checkpoint over the past several years.

Most of the pangolins, he said, came from Indonesia with Thailand serving as the syndicates' transit point before they headed for China. — Bernama