Camo-clad rangers ambush a camp in a lush Thai national park, kicking away a machete and a firearm and pinning two suspected poachers to the ground — part of a training exercise to counter a lucrative wildlife trade.
“Go!” team leader Kritkhajorn Tangon yells as the group tackles the actors, who had near them sambar deer antlers and a blade covered in fake blood.
Thailand’s conservationists are struggling to stamp out the multibillion-dollar black market in animal parts, finding themselves outgunned by illegal hunters and outflanked by courts.
The country is a key transit point for smugglers moving on to Vietnam and China, two of the world’s biggest markets for parts from endangered and protected species.
But efforts by its 14,000 rangers to take down illegal hunters and loggers are often stymied by a lack of resources and training, with about 15 rangers killed each year in deadly encounters.
Impunity also reigns for traffickers who are well connected politically and financially, dodging jail time when there is little iron-clad physical evidence to keep them behind bars.
Gathering evidence, protecting a crime scene and using forensic analysis were some of the skills developed by more than a dozen rangers who took part in the training week led by anti-trafficking group Freeland.
Among the participants in the event at Khao Yai National Park, which culminated in Friday’s mock scenario, were four officials from neighbouring Cambodia and Laos.
“Our investigation skills are still weak… when they (rangers) encounter these situations, they leave loopholes in the collection of evidence,” Kritkhajorn told AFP.
“It could result in the suspect walking free.”
Freeland has emphasised the need for material evidence as “it cannot be manipulated, whereas an eyewitness can retract his testimony”, said country director Petcharat Sangchai, a retired police major-general.