Thai police toppled an accused kingpin in the global multi-million-dollar wildlife black market, with the arrest on Friday of Boonchai Bach in Nakhon Phanom, near the Laos border along the Mekong river.
For more than a decade, Boonchai is believed to have overseen a syndicate responsible for the illegal trade of wildlife poached in Asia and Africa, according to the anti-trafficking group Freeland, which describes him as a “kingpin” who has evaded capture for years.
The 40-year old Thai man, originally from Vietnam, is being held in connection with last month’s trafficking of 14 African rhino horns into Thailand, a hub for poached animals destined largely for China, according to the group. But Boonchai’s ties to global animal trafficking allegedly go much deeper.
— FREELAND (@FREELANDpeople) January 20, 2018
“In a nutshell, I can’t think of anything in the past five years that has been this significant,” Matthew Pritchett, Freeland’s director of communications told The Associated Press of Boonchai’s arrest.
Boonchai dealt with large quantities of pangolins, tigers and lions, smuggling the contraband across the Mekong river and on to dealers in Laos, Vietnam and China, says the group. But, The Guardian reports, his main products were allegedly rhino horns and elephant tusks, amounting to thousands of tons.
Elephant ivory is prized for its use in everything from jewelry to chopsticks to piano keys. China is believed to be the world’s biggest consumer, helping fuel the annual poaching of some 30,000 elephants, National Geographic says. As of Dec. 31, the country’s legal ivory trade was shuttered, in accordance with a 2015 agreement with the U.S. But the illicit trade of ivory continues to flourish.
Boonchai’s arrest came after an X-ray inspection last month of a bag on a flight from Ethiopia revealed the rhino horns, which are prized for their supposed curative properties.
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SOURCE: NPR, Amy Held