Notorious wildlife trafficking suspect arrested in Thailand

By Allen Cone  |  Updated Jan. 20, 2018 at 1:20 PM
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Jan. 20 (UPI) -- A suspected wildlife trafficking kingpin of elephant tusks and rhino horns has been arrested in Thailand.

Boonchai Bach was arrested in the northeastern province of Nakhon Phanom, next to the Mekong River on Thursday, the Guardian reported.

He is being held over the illicit trafficking of 14 rhino horns from Africa into Thailand in early December 2017. He also allegedly supervised an extensive syndicate trafficking large quantities of poached elephant ivory, rhino horn, pangolins, tigers, lions, and other rare and endangered species for more than a decade.

He was arrested after a routine inspection of cargo on a flight from Ethiopia. Rhino horns in bags were shown on X-rays and Thai police followed them to a Thai government officer working in the airport.

"This arrest is a significant for many reasons," Police Col. Chutrakul Yodmadee said in a report by The Phuket News. "The confiscated items are high in value. And we are able to arrest the whole network involved, starting from the courier, the facilitator, the exporter who plan to export goods through Thai-Laos border. We even got the moneyman behind the gang. That means we are able to arrest the whole network."

Freeland, a counter-trafficking organization, refers to the network as Hydra, because of its many heads.

Steven Galster, founder of Freeland, thanked authorities "for breaking open the country's largest wildlife crime case, ever."

Boonchai Bach and his older brother Bach Van Limh allegedly supplied Vixay Keosavang, southeast Asia's most prominent wildlife dealer, who is based in Laos.

The elder Bach brother is believed to be outside Thailand.

In 2013, the U.S. government has offered $1 million reward to end his operations.

Though they have public exposure, authorities have not been able to arrest the "Bach Brothers" as they're known.

"This arrest spells hope for wildlife," Galster said. "We hope Thailand, its neighboring countries, and counterparts in Africa will build on this arrest and tear Hydra completely apart."

On the black market, 2.2 pounds of rhino horn is believed to be worth around $100,000.

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