New Anti-poaching Rapid Response Unit Leads the Fight Against Siamese Rosewood Trafficking

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Five poachers were just arrested deep within the forests of Eastern Thailand with a haul of Siamese rosewood, chainsaws and weapons during a week-long operation by Hasadin, the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation’s (DNP) new anti-poaching rapid response unit.

Derived from the Sanskrit word for “elephant”, Hasadin is a group of elite specially trained rangers formed specifically to combat the highly organized and well-equipped poaching gangs that are stripping Thailand’s protected forests of this precious wood. Hasadin’s successful first mission was the high point in a month that saw a significant number of rosewood-related arrests and seizures, despite the ever-present dangers faced by ranger teams in combating this illegal traffic.

Over the last four years criminal gangs have infiltrated the forests of Northeastern Thailand in search of valuable Siamese rosewood to supply the burgeoning market in China where it is prized for its rich blood red color and carved into decorative ornaments and furniture. Once logged, the poached timber is then transported via clandestine networks across Thailand and through neighboring countries to China where it fetches prices of up to $100,000 per cubic meter.

Despite bans on the felling and transport of Siamese rosewood and listing of the species under the Convention in Trade of Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES), the insidious trafficking of this extremely rare forest species continues unabated.

Armed with automatic rifles and often-exceeding fifty in number, rosewood poaching gangs regularly fire upon smaller and ill-equipped ranger patrols when challenged. This dire situation, which continues to intensify in scale and violence, prompted the establishment of Hasadin to operate within the Dong Phayayen – Khao Yai World Heritage Site that holds Thailand’s last reserves of this precious timber.

Hasadin is the brainchild of Mr. Wichai Pornleesangsuwon, Director of National Parks Division, Region 1 Administration and Head of Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai World Heritage Site Office, which oversees management of the Eastern Forest Complex.

Mobilizing an appropriate response to the ever-increasing threat posed by organized criminal gangs is critically important. We sought to establish a group that could meet this challenge, a large force that could respond quickly to emergencies like this throughout the forest complex – and help turn the tide against those who seek to destroy our forests”.

This month’s operation was a real-world test for the Hasadin elite rangers who were all drawn from the five national parks that make up the forest complex. Prior to deployment, the selected rangers attended a two-week Advanced Enforcement training course, organized by anti wildlife trafficking and human slavery NGO Freeland, to boost their skills in anti-poaching tactics.

As individuals, the rangers have a wealth of experience which when combined makes for a formidable anti-poaching rapid response force. Hasidin’s ability to assemble quickly in response to intelligence reports is a crucial factor in successfully tracking down and arresting poacher gangs.

Hasadin ranger Satit  Chaisil is excited to be a part of the new team, but understands the risks involved. “I know it is a difficult and dangerous job. The loggers often shoot at us, so I was happy to be selected to be part of this new unit and receive specialist training. I now feel more confident and ready to protect the forest.”

Freeland’s Surviving Together Program Director Tim Redford stresses that this crisis is more than just about rosewood, “As Siamese rosewood becomes scarce, loggers are already switching to the next most valuable species. It is a trend that will continue for both high-value timber species and the wildlife that inhabits the World Heritage Site. This is a landscape that not only provides a home for threatened biodiversity, but also provides food security for millions of people in the form of clean water for drinking and an irrigation essential for rice cultivation.”

The new elite Hasadin team is the second DNP rapid response ranger team trained by Freeland. In late 2013, Thailand’s DNP created the ‘King of Tigers’, a national rapid response ranger team that has had many successes throughout the country including the seizure of millions of dollars’ worth of wildlife contraband.

The plundering of Thailand’s forests has now reached a crisis point. Though challenges remain, the formation of the Hasadin group brings new hope in the fight to protect the Kingdom’s precious natural heritage.

The Dong Phayayen – Khao Yai forest complex was designated as a World Heritage Site in 2005 for its outstanding bio-diversity and is home to many threatened species of wildlife and is one of the most important natural landscapes in Thailand.

For more information:

Tim Redford
Freeland
Director of Surviving Together Program
Tim@freeland.org

Note to Editors:
Freeland is a frontline counter-trafficking organization working for a world that is free of wildlife trafficking and human slavery. Our team of law enforcement, development and communications specialists work alongside partners in Asia, Africa and the Americas to build capacity, raise awareness, strengthen networks and promote good governance to protect critical ecosystems and vulnerable people. For more info, visit www.freeland.org also; follow Freeland on twitter @FREELANDpeople or facebook.com/freelandfoundation.

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