IFAW: Grace Ge Gabriel
We don’t meet or talk to criminals often. But that’s exactly what I did last November in Bangkok. At a meeting on the implementation of the Asia Regional Response to Endangered Species Trafficking (ARREST) program, a former poacher sat among us and we also talked on the phone with a current wildlife trafficker.
The poacher explained how easy it was to kill a tiger in the wild, “just kill an elephant first and let the decaying meat to attract tigers”. He got phone orders from wildlife traders whom he never met. As a poacher, he was paid very little money yet shouldered a much higher risk than the trader. He was caught and put in prison. He quit when he came out. “It got harder to find wild animals and the money was not worth the risk”, he said.
The trader, however, was a completely different story. He told us how easily he makes a killing by getting wildlife from poachers and selling it at a high price to the end market. Anonymity, money and connections are all on his side. He bribes corrupt officials to turn a blind eye to his criminal activities. We asked him if he would change from trafficking wildlife to drugs, his answer was an emphatic “No”. To him, wildlife trafficking is a high-profit, yet low-risk profession.
This was proved yet again recently with the release of Anson Wong, one of world’s most notorious wildlife traffickers. In February, he walked out of Malaysian prison a free man after serving only 17 months and 15 days of a 5-year sentence.....