Over my Sunday morning coffee, I open up my email (who gets the paper anymore?) and read an article a friend has just sent.
“20 January 2018 – Asian wildlife trafficking ‘kingpin’ Boonchai Bach arrested”
I don’t usually post on breaking news, but this one resonated for me. Thai police have arrested a man alleged to be the head of Asia’s biggest illegal wildlife trading networks. Boonchai Bach, a 40-year-old Thai of Vietnamese origin, was detained in a town on the border with Laos.
The fact that he hails from Vietnam doesn’t completely surprise. Vietnam doesn’t score very high in the wildlife trafficking stakes. In fact it’s the worst. According to World Wildlife Fund, Vietnam, China, and Laos have the worst records for preventing the illegal trade of animal parts that has put elephant, rhino, and tiger populations at risk. A few years ago, they published a “Wildlife Crime Scorecard” which the demand for rhino horn and the legalization of tiger farms in Vietnam put it at the top of the list of offending countries.
Police said Bach was ringleader of a major smuggling syndicate that has been operating over a decade. When he was arrested on Friday, he was smuggling of 14 rhino horns worth around $1m (£700,000) from Africa to Thailand.
So, Boonchai Bach faces up to four years in jail for smuggling protected animal parts like rhino horns and elephant ivory. Call me a bleeding heart liberal (I’m kind of okay with that) but that seems a little light to me. Elephants have complex social systems – take the wrong one out of the herd and it puts the whole group at risk. Pull too many herds out of any species and you lose them all.
Once a keystone species like the elephant is taken out of an ecosystem, the landscape-scale impacts it makes are gone too, potentially changing the lives on a continent, human and non-human alike. And once a species is gone, it doesn’t come back (notwithstanding some genetic tinkering). Is four years really enough for somebody who was culpable on such a large scale? I don’t know the answer, and I’m glad I wasn’t responsible for deciding on the sentence.
The anti-trafficking group Freeland, which helped to find the evidence (nice job guys), believes Bach’s arrest will seriously disrupt his alleged wildlife smuggling operation, which it says is one of the biggest in this region.
No doubt this is a major win, even if it’s a drop in the ocean compared to the scale of the problem globally. After some consideration, I’ve decided that it does give me some cause for hope. After all, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) was only ratified in 1973. Prior to about 50 years ago, there were no protections at all. (Of course, the world population of humans in 1973, was under 4 billion, but let’s not go there.)
As long as there are some people willing to fight for, fund (and write about) these pervasive issues, they stay current and we continue to have a chance of overcoming them. The work that dedicated people have done to bring Bach to justice is testament to the commitment there is out there to keep wildlife and wild places free to be enjoyed by future generations of us and, infinitely more important, free simply to exist.