News Release

Ivory Traffickers Nabbed in International Sting Operation

November 18, 2009

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Two Thai nationals were arrested November 16 in Bangkok, Thailand, and charged for illegally trading African ivory, following a two year-long international joint investigation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement and the Royal Thai Police, with support from FREELAND Foundation and the ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network (ASEAN-WEN).

The accused face a maximum of four years in prison and fines of up to $1,150 (U.S.) under Thailand’s Wild Animal Reservation and Protection Act that protects species listed on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES), and up to $2,950 (U.S.) under the Customs Act for the import and export of illegal goods.

“The activities of organized networks trafficking in illegal wildlife have a devastating impact on recovery of rare species in the wild,” said Paul Chang, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agent in Charge. “These illegal actions are a cancer inhibiting our best efforts in protecting the world’s wildlife resources.”

Chang called the investigation “a fine example of important international cooperation.”

During the investigation, ivory purchases were made from the suspects and sent to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Forensics Lab in Ashland, Oregon, for DNA testing. Tests confirmed the ivory was of African origin, revealing that it had been smuggled into Thailand before it was illegally exported. Special agents with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service worked closely with the Royal Thai Police during the investigation and traveled to Bangkok to support the investigation.

“Consumer demand in developed countries such as the United States for items made of ivory fuels this illicit trade, and the Internet facilitates this,” Chang said. “People who care about wildlife should take responsibility to confirm that what they’re buying is legal.”

Spanning three continents, the crime confirms Asia as an evolving international transit point for illegal trade in endangered species and their derivatives. Southeast Asia is already known to be a major source of illegally traded wildlife, supplying a global black market estimated to be worth $10 billion - $30 billion USD annually.

On August 21, 2009, Thai Customs reported the seizure of approximately 2 tons of ivory believed to be from Africa and worth an estimated $1.5 million USD in several operations at Suvarnabhumi International Airport this year. On May 20, 2009, Philippines Customs reported the seizure of 3.5 tons of elephant tusks transported to Manila in two containers from Tanzania and worth an estimated $2 million USD. On March 6, 2009, Vietnam Customs seized2 tons of African elephant tusks at a Hai Phong Port estimated to be worth more than $29 million USD. They seized a further 2 tons of elephant ivory shipped from Africa at the same port in August, 2009.

The international illegal ivory trade is considered the primary reason for the continuing decline in Africa’s elephant populations. CITES signatories agreed to an international ban on the trade of African elephant ivory in 1989. Effective international wildlife law enforcement is crucial to ensuring this ban provides real protection for Africa’s elephants.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement is committed to supporting international efforts to shutdown illegal networks.

Note to Editors:

FREELAND is an international organization dedicated to ending the illegal wildlife trade, conserving natural habitats and protecting human rights. FREELAND works throughout Asia, raising public awareness and building local capacity to protect critical ecosystems, wildlife and human rights.

FREELAND is the lead implementing partner of the U.S. Support Program for the ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network (ASEAN-WEN), a program that provides investigative assistance, training and other capacity building support to Southeast Asian authorities tasked with stopping illegal wildlife trade – a major threat to biodiversity. For more information visit