The illicit trade in wildlife is worth an estimated US$19 billion per and is driving many endangered species towards extinction. The mass poaching of animals such as the pangolin and endangered trees such as Siamese rosewood is run by organized criminal syndicates who enter forests to collect their illegal goods. The forests, many dwindling across Southeast Asia, are being protected by rangers who are often under-trained and out-armed. Many of the rangers fulfil their duties not for monetary gain, but rather out of passion and a sense of pride to protect their national heritage.
Mr. Boonlert Sankhot is one such ranger working for Thailand’s Department of National Parks, Plant and Wildlife Conservation. He has been a forest ranger for more than 12 years. “I love the forest and nature” he says. “The work rangers do is for everyone because we all rely on the forest and need to live in a good and well-balanced natural environment. We work to keep the natural environment in balance.”
Mr Sankhot is a senior ranger and has been helping to train forest rangers for more than six years. To date he has trained hundreds of Thai rangers and regularly assists with instruction at trainings supported by the USAID-funded Asia’s Regional Response to Endangered Species Trafficking (ARREST) Program and other U.S. supported initiatives designed to strengthen law enforcement in Southeast Asia.
Thailand, together with many Southeast Asian countries, is facing a wildlife trafficking crisis. The country’s natural resources are being stolen from forests, the infrastructure facilities one of the illegal wildlife trade’s largest transit points, and an illegal ivory market along with demand for traditional medicines is fuelling poaching across the globe. ARREST training courses are done in conjunction with local government agencies and provide skills and knowledge to empower local rangers to implement their own trainings ensuring sustainability and the progress of local law enforcement.
“The training helps to increase efficiency and safety of patrolling and allows rangers to expand the area they cover, allowing better protection of the forest” Boonlert added. As a result of his hard work, Mr Sankhot was selected to instruct the recently established elite ranger team, the King of Tigers. After two months of extensive training, the new mobile unit is now able to access all areas of the country and work with counterparts to expand the reach of the training.
So what does the future hold for Boonlert? He has now also been selected as a Team Leader in a new special, multi-agency task-force to combat rosewood poaching in Thailand where he will continue to pass-on the knowledge he has gained. In recent years the rising price and high demand for Siamese rosewood has seen well-armed, organized criminal syndicates entering Thailand’s forests to illegally log the protected timber. In the last five years alone, more than 40 Thai rangers have been murdered, mostly from rosewood poachers. “In the future I see myself continuing to work behind the scenes and training new rangers so that they know how to work safely, efficiently and can return from their patrols uninjured.”
The ARREST Program will continue to mentor champions for wildlife conservation like Boonlert so that the Thai rangers leading today’s fight against wildlife crime can pass that knowledge to the next generation of wildlife heroes.