Anyone who has been to Thailand has certainly heard of Chatuchak Weekend Market. The narrow, darkened alleys filled with traders plying their wares; the place which once earned a reputation as “the market where you could buy anything you wanted”.
Most harrowing of all was the wholesale trade of wildlife, both local and imported, which took place right in the open. The largest block of revenue came, however, from the sale of wild birds. Hornbills were reportedly sold for as low as 800 baht a head; kingfishers, partridges, parrots, eagles and even sunbirds were sold in cramped cages by vendors who wanted only to make a couple of bucks from the poor creature before it would die from exposure and trauma.
When international and private animal rights organizations began to raise their voices in disgust, the government issued a crackdown which purged many of the renegade operators from the market. Chatuchak Market worked to rebuild their tarnished reputation, and the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) took the liberty of policing the market to insure that vendors were only selling lawful and wholesome products to the local and foreign community.
In recent years, fewer and fewer reports of wild birds being sold have surfaced, with most of the action centered around the Or Tor Gor Market, just behind the weekend market. Even then, the regular presence of wildlife and forestry officials patrolling the alleys have limited the number of vendors to a small handful, although the trade persists at a much smaller scale than in past times.
While this decrease in activity may come as a relief to the birding community, it doesn’t mean the wildlife trade has disappeared; it just means that it has been channeled in a different direction.
The wildlife trade is still as much alive as it was in the past and still as openly and blatantly as before, only now the issue is it’s much more difficult for the law to trace and prosecute any would-be offenders.
Where could this place be you may ask? The answer is simple: the World Wide Web.
This silent trade is even more dangerous than in the past with open stalls in crowded marketplaces, as wildlife officials have limited resources to set up a trap to detain these criminals. -No rents, no addresses, no names, just a pseudonym and an open bank account, waiting for transfers.
–How easy can it get.
Catching these sellers is not an easy task. Some of the traders will only ship their wares and won’t even set up a meeting with their potential clients. Many of the sellers are also just locals who have bought the birds from trappers and are selling them to make extra income. Even if the sellers are caught and prosecuted, the trappers will still be out there, catching more birds and finding more short-sighted locals who are willing to sell the birds for them.
Many of the birds are sold at rock-bottom prices, making it an attractive option for locals interested in purchasing a bird for their home aviary.
One website which has been flying under the radar for a while is the Pantip Marketplace, a site which surprisingly shares the same namesake as the notorious Pantip Plaza, the software piracy capital of Thailand. No doubt the webmasters try to keep the site clean and free from illegal transactions, but I doubt they have little or no idea about the laws which govern the trade of wildlife.
The site offers plenty of traditional cagebirds such as lovebirds, budgerigars, finches and pigeons, as well as cages and pet accessories. However, since the site offers free postings of classified and items for sale, many local traders have found it as an ideal place to sell their contraband goods. The site is also fairly well known and has a high turnover rate, allowing traders to sell off their items quickly and attracting less attention to themselves.
Birds available for sale have included the typical favorites for local bird collectors such as parrots, bulbuls, mynas, laughingthrushes and robins. More alarming is the steady increase in sales of large birds such as eagles, hornbills and owls, mostly sold as fledglings to be reared by hand.
The issue at hand is that most people have little or no idea how to raise these powerful and cumbersome creatures. Many of the birds succumb to sickness or malnutrition and perish, while others are doomed to spend the rest of their life in cramped cages, unable to soar in the open skies with the majesty and splendor they were born to embrace.
Sadly, it is the desire to keep odd or strange pets which fuels this illegal trade. Many Thai people find keeping pets an entertaining hobby and more often than not, it’s the weirder creatures which attract the most attention.
Wildlife officials must find a solution to curb this problem. So far it seems there is little which can be done to stop this online trading as it requires a large amount of time, attention and manpower, far greater than the Forestry Department can currently afford to invest. Perhaps we need to start talking to the web administrators and plead with them to remove or ban posts which offer illegal wildlife for sale. Perhaps we need to compile a team of web-savvy experts who can track down the IP addresses of these dealers so the authorities can make arrests. Whatever the case, the bleeding has got to stop.
In any circumstance, the case for conservation has to come from the heart. Otherwise, as in the case of Thailand, the trade will continue unabated until there is nothing left to sell and our national heritage has been completely reduced to ash.