In this photo released Friday by the FREEDLAND Fundation, a leopard cub looks out from a cage after being confiscated by Thai authorities at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi International Airport. (AP-Yonhap News)
Authorities at Thailand's international airport arrested a first-class passenger Friday whose suitcases were filled with baby leopards, panthers, a bear and monkeys. The animals had been drugged and were headed for Dubai.
The man, a 36-year-old United Arab Emirates citizen, was waiting to check-in for his flight at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi International Airport when he was apprehended by undercover anti-trafficking officers, who had been monitoring him since his black market purchase of the rare and endangered animals, according to the FREELAND Foundation, an anti-trafficking group based in Thailand.
When authorities opened the suitcases, the animals yawned, said Steven Galster, director of FREELAND, who was present during the bust. There were two leopards, two panthers, an Asiatic black bear and two macaque monkeys — all about the size of puppies.
"It looked like they had sedated the animals and had them in flat cages so they couldn't move around much," Galster said. Some of the animals were placed inside canisters with air holes.
Authorities believe the man was part of a trafficking network and were searching for suspected accomplices.
"It was a very sophisticated smuggling operation. We've never seen one like this before," Galster said. "The guy had a virtual zoo in his suitcases."
Thailand is a hub for illegal wildlife trafficking, but authorities typically find rare turtles, tortoises, snakes and lizards that feed demand in China and Vietnam. Finding such an array of live mammals is unusual.
"We haven't seen this mixture (of animals) before," Galster said. "It's amazing. We were really surprised."
In Thailand, leopards and panthers fetch roughly $5,000 a piece on the black market, but their value in Dubai was presumably higher, Galster said. It was not known if the animals were destined to be resold or kept as exotic pets, a practice popular in the Middle East.
태국 공항서 여행가방 열어보니 동물 천국
태국 국제 공항에서 여행가방에 동물들을 넣고 밀반입 하려던 일등객 승객이 발견돼 동물애호가들의 비난을 사고있다.
AP에 따르면 36세 아랍 에미레이트 시민인 한 남자가 2마리의 아기표범, 2마리 팬더, 곰한마리 그리고 원숭이2마리를 여행가방에 넣고 두바이행 비행기를 타려다 태국 공항 공무원들에게 발각되었다.
공항 공무원들이 여행가방을 열자 아기 동물들은 마약에 취해 하품을 하고 있었다고 AP 통신은 전했다.
"고난이도의 동물 밀반입 방법입니다. 이런 케이스는 본적이 없습니다." 스티픈 갈스터, 태국의 한 동물보호단체 국장이 AP 통신과의 인터뷰에서 말했다.
태국내에서 표범이나 팬더 한마리당 미화 5000달러에 거래되고 있으며 두바이 같은 중동국가에서는 더 높은 가격에 팔리고 있다고 한다.