When, in the early hours of December 9 Pol Maj Narongwet Ohn-sungnen, an Inspector with the Amnat Charoen Highway Police, received a tip-off that a pickup truck with a cargo of illegally obtained wildlife was heading his way, he acted swiftly.
He ordered road blocks to be set up and at 3:30 am an old bronze Mazda pickup exactly matching the description given by the informant turned up at one of them.
The game was not up so easily, however. Instead of stopping, the driver sped through the checkpoint. All units were mobilized to give chase and eventually the suspects were caught near Baan Kai Kham.
Crammed in the back of the truck, police found 85 long-tailed macaques, all in a pitiful condition.
The driver of the truck, Pramot Seupsing, 30, and his accomplice, Sompot Phlaphon, also 30, possibly realizing that claiming the monkeys climbed in by themselves wouldn’t fool the fine minds of the Highway Police, promptly confessed that they had snatched the animals from nearby Don Pu Ta wildlife sanctuary.
This in itself is not so uncommon a story; the smuggling of protected wildlife for food, fur or the pet trade is a worldwide problem.
However, according to the two suspects, the monkeys in question were not destined for a Chinese or Korean banquet, but had been ordered by monks in Central Thailand.
The men admitted that this was not the first time they had been involved in monkey rustling and that the animals were highly valued at temples as they are popular among villagers and encourage locals to come to temple fairs and donate generously. They also cast the temples in a good light as they are seen to be caring for wild animals, the rustlers claimed.
A few days later this seemingly wild allegation was given substance by no less a person than Phra Khru Kittiphachakhun, the Lord Abbot of Chondaen District, Phetchabun, who admitted that a monk in his district had previously been accused of receiving stolen monkeys and might well be involved in this case.
The Lord Abbot explained that in previous cases, the monk in question had managed to retain his position due to lack of evidence. He urged police to check the monk’s bank account for any suspicious transactions.
“If we can prove that this monk is involved in monkey smuggling then we will discipline him to the full extent of the rules of the Buddhist clergy before turning him over to the police,” the Lord Abbot said.
As for the police, their glory quickly turned to shame when it was revealed that 37 of the seized monkeys died in their care.
Wisanu Ratanaphan, from the Amnat Charoen Natural Resources and Environment Office, blasted the police saying, “Had the police cooperated with us earlier then the monkeys would not have died like this.”
He added that two months earlier, police had come to the assistance of villagers who had found a large python, but had then let the animal starve to death “in their care”.
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