Endangered red panda among 87 live animals seized from smugglers at Thailand airport

Bangkok — Thai customs officials have arrested six Indians for attempting to smuggle a red panda and 86 other animals out of the kingdom, including snakes, parrots and monitor lizards, officials said Wednesday.

The illicit menagerie was discovered hidden in the suspects’ checked luggage at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport as they tried to fly to Mumbai.

Thailand is a major transit hub for smugglers in the illicit wildlife trafficking trade, who often sell the animals in China and Vietnam, although recent years have seen an uptick in trafficking to India.

“We have found out that the animals include 29 black throat monitor lizards, 21 snakes, 15 birds, including parrots — a total of 87 animals. The animals were hidden inside the luggage,” the Customs Department said in a statement.

A confiscated red panda is seen inside luggage at Suvarnabhumi Airport after authorities arrested Indian nationals who were allegedly trying to smuggle wildlife, in Bangkok, Thailand, March 7, 2024.

Thai Customs Department/Handout/REUTERS

Photos released by the department show the red panda — an endangered species — peeking out of a wicker basket, and a parrot shut in a plastic container with air holes crudely drilled in the lid.

More plastic tubs held lizards, while snakes were seen coiled together in cloth bags.

The suspects face a maximum of 10 years in prison or four times the amount of import duties.

Last month a Mongolian man was arrested at the same airport for trying to smuggle Komodo dragons, pythons and two dozen live fish out of the kingdom.

The trafficking of wildlife has grown into the 4th biggest illicit trade on the planet, worth an estimated $100 and $150 billion per year. Decades of charity-driven conservation efforts have largely failed to curb the trade, which experts say is linked to virtually every other facet of global organized crime, from weapons and narcotics smuggling to terrorism.

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