The cat's out of the bag—at least for a woman caught smuggling a live, two-month-old, drugged tiger cub in a suitcase full of toys (pictured) at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi International Airport on Sunday.
The 31-year-old Thai national, whose identity has not been revealed by Thai authorities, was scheduled to board a Mahan Air flight to Iran. But when she was seen struggling with a large bag at check-in, airport officials decided to x-ray her luggage.
Thai veterinarian Phimchanok Srongmongkul nurses a tiger cub at the Wildlife Health Unit at the Department of National Parks in Bangkok on August 27.
"He was very calm, half asleep and half awake, when we rescued him," an official with Thailand's Wild Fauna and Flora Protection Division told the Bangkok Post.
The smuggler—who admitted carrying the cub—could face four years in prison, a $1,280 fine, or both for possessing and smuggling an endangered animal, officials told the Post.
Photograph by Sakchai Lalit, AP
Cat's Out of the Bag
Though authorities should be applauded for spotting the live tiger cub (pictured) in luggage, the case demonstrated a real need for tougher action on tiger smuggling, according to Chris R. Shepherd, Southeast Asia deputy regional director for TRAFFIC.
"If people are trying to smuggle live tigers in their check-in luggage, they obviously think wildlife smuggling is something easy to get away with and do not fear reprimand," Shepherd said in a statement. (See related photo: "Smuggler Caught With 14 Birds in Pants.")
"Only sustained pressure on wildlife traffickers and serious penalties can change that."
With wildlife trade on the rise, officials at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi International Airport who rescued the live tiger cub (pictured) had just gone through a training course on how to spot smugglers, which was sponsored by the ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network, partly funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
The agreement encompasses both wild-caught and captive tigers, including animals raised on so-called tiger farms. (See tiger pictures.)
Even so, some tourist attractions—such as the Xiongsen Bear and Tiger Park in Guillin, China—secretly operate as fronts for illegal tiger farming, butchering captive tigers for their parts, National Geographic magazine reported earlier this year. (See pictures: "Tigers Butchered for Trade at 'Zoos' in China?")
Photograph courtesy TRAFFIC
Happy Ending for Tiger Cub?
There should be a happy ending for the smuggled tiger cub (pictured), which is being cared for at Thailand's Rescue Center of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife, and Plant Conservation, according to TRAFFIC.
DNA samples will determine the baby tiger's subspecies—such as Bengal, Sumatran, or Siberian—which will help authorities figure out where the cub came from.