The clouded leopard skin seized by the task force, Phaya Suea. Credit: DNP/ Phaya Suea

Online trade in fresh clouded leopard skin busted

The vulnerable leopard is found to have been hunted freshly, a rare incident in the wild in recent years, as wildlife authorities have compared the spotted pattern on its skin with a database collected from camera traps, and learned that it matches that of a mature leopard roaming in Erawan National Park just last year

The National Parks, Wildlife, and Plant Conservation Department’s Phaya Suea forest crime suppression task force has investigated FB posts and FB groups selling wild animal parts and tracked down illegal wildlife traders since last week. They have managed to make an arrest of a few of them and seize one leopard skin in a sting operation.

The staff of the task force contacted an FB account owner who had posted a photo of the leopard skin in one FB group last week and deposited a sum of Bt 2,000. The full price was tagged at Bt 7,500.

The trader then agreed to meet the staff at a petrol station in Nakhon Pathom province to hand over the skin in exchange for the rest of the money. He was then intercepted and charged with violation of a wildlife preservation law for possessing and trading wildlife or wildlife carcasses. The penalties under the amended law are hefty, with a fine as high as Bt 500,000 to one million and/or a jail sentence of five to 10 years.

The staff examines the skin. Credit: DNP/ Phaya Suea

The task force also expanded an investigation into a house in nearby Kanchanaburi province yesterday and learned about more collections of wildlife parts including pangolin scales and live birds in the house. They seized the items and filed a complaint to the police against a house renter, who was not at the scene.

The graphics comparing the pattern on the seized skin with that on the life leopard captured roaming in the wild. Credit: DNP/ Phaya Suea

The fresh leopard skin

Having observed the fresh skin, the officials then brought it to check with patterns in the database. They have learned that it matches with that of a mature clouded leopard found roaming in Erawan National Park located in Kanchanaburi just last year. The leopard was also found roaming with its pair, and the officials believed that it too was hunted down.

Clouded Leopard is a species listed under IUCN Red List as a vulnerable species. In recent years, its population has been noted as decreasing, despite a wide distribution from the foot of the Himalayas to the forests in Southeast Asia, and mainland China.

In Thailand, the cat is classified as a protected species under the wildlife preservation law. Possessing and trading the species are prohibited with hefty penalties imposed.

In recent years, the department’s systematic patrolling under the SMART Patrol program has successfully suppressed wild animal poaching, especially big cats. The last major hunt was reported in the western forests some six or seven years back before this incident has emerged.

Due to strong suppression by officials, wildlife trade is believed to go more and more online. Last February, Phaya Suea also managed to seize a number of wildlife parts and carcasses in the south via a sting operation online. However, it remains unclear how the Covid-19 pandemic has been playing a role in these illegal activities. The arrests regularly made by the department’s task forces, Phaya Suea and Yiaw Dong, have demonstrated that they just persist somehow.

Nearly 30 items of wildlife parts and carcasses seized by the task force in last February. Credit: DNP/ Phaya Suea