In Spring 2016, the Elephant Action League (EAL) commenced an investigation codenamed Operation Australia in Thailand targeting the trafficking of live orangutans and birds from Indonesia for the illegal live pet trade.
Intelligence was obtained that POI (Person of Interest) Mr. Pichet Muangrsi, aka Galim, was in possession of four juvenile orangutans from Indonesia which he was trying to sell for 120,000 Thai Bath (Approx. $3,400 USD). Muangrsi was also involved in smuggling birds from Indonesia into Thailand where they are laundered and then smuggled out of Thailand.
While trying to get closer to Mr. Muangrsi and trying to locate the orangutans, in April 2016 information was received that Muangrsi was no longer in possession of the orangutans as three had died from over sedation while being moved from safe house to safe house. The remaining orangutan was allegedly sold for 170,000 THB (Approx $4,800 USD). Muangrsi also told one of our sources that he was expecting a shipment of birds from Indonesia in the next 2 – 3 weeks.
Muangrsi told our sources that his supplier in Indonesia had been arrested about 3 months previous and that he had been trying to supply him with 10kg orangutans whereas Muangrsi only wanted 3kg animals. Despite his arrest, Muangrsi indicated that he could still obtain orangutans from his Indonesian supplier.
Due to Mr. Muangrsi’s low profile and apparent inactivity, our team could not make any progress for a few months and we were forced to put the investigation on hold. In October 2016, our sources on the ground managed to engage Mr. Muangrsi again as he was expecting another shipment of wild animals from abroad.After a few months of further investigation, the Royal Thai Police, acting on information provided by EAL, arrested Mr. Pichart Muangsri on March 11, 2017. Mr. Muangsri, 45 years old, is a significant wildlife trafficker who has been smuggling endangered live animals and illegal wildlife products for at least 15 years.
The Royal Thai Police raided two facilities near Bangkok belonging to Mr. Muangsri where they found over 400 birds and some carcasses of helmeted hornbills. He was charged for the carcasses of hornbills and the police are investigating the origin of the live birds. The ‘helmet’ of a hornbill, a wedge of keratin (the same material that makes up fingernails) called a casque, is highly valued and in high demand, especially in China, where traffickers generally sell it as ‘red ivory.’
Mr. Crosta and EAL wish to thank and congratulate the Royal Thai Police for this important arrest. According to Mr. Crosta, “We look forward to further collaboration with the Royal Thai Police as they continue to combat the wildlife trade in Thailand.”
EAL operatives will continue to investigate wildlife criminal networks in South East Asia through its unique intelligence and investigative operations. Developments related to this case will be published by EAL in the coming months.