It is well known that Thailand can provide some of the best shopping opportunities throughout all of South East Asia. Bangkok in particular can almost leave visitors spoilt for choice when it comes to shopping such is the amazing array of goods and products that are on offer in Thailand’s capital city.
However, amongst the modern shopping complexes and malls or the night markets and high street traders selling discounted souvenirs and other merchandise, it could be the case that whilst you are busy enjoying this truly wonderful shopper’s paradise, you could come across a number of products that are made from wild or exotic animals and plants.
Whilst it is not that uncommon to find clothing or footwear that has been made from animals in the west, some of the animals used in Thailand to make souvenir items such as belts or handbags could be rather different to what you would see back home!
For example, in Thailand, crocodile skin is often used to make such items, all of which is perfectly legal and above board. Throughout the country there are a number of crocodile farms that breed these animals specifically to satisfy the demand for such clothing and accessories.
However, apart from seeing products which have been made from crocodile skin, there is also a reasonable chance that you could come across a range of different goods or souvenirs that will have been made from things such as snake skin or ivory, which will almost certainly be illegal.
As a visitor to Koh Samui or anywhere else in Thailand, you need to understand that not all of the products you will see for sale, particularly at night markets or small street stalls, will always be completely legal. This is especially true where the sale of animal products or animals themselves is concerned.
It could be said that in certain parts of Thailand, the sale of illegal animals or animal based products are so common that it is almost considered to be normal by certain sections of the Thai authorities and the general public.
Illegal Animal Trade is Big Business
Whilst, the trade of illegal or exotic animals is not widespread on Koh Samui, throughout other parts of Thailand, it is certainly big business. In fact, the rewards can sometimes be so great that people who are involved in the illegal animal trade in Thailand will often go to great lengths to try and smuggle exotic animals in and out of the country.
In early 2011 customs officials working at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport intercepted two separate shipments of illegal animals and products. Working on inside intelligence, the Thai officials discovered just over 1 ton of rhino horns and elephant tusks, which had been hidden inside 12 different crates.
The illegal cargo comprised of nearly 120 elephant tusks, 50 cut pieces of ivory and 3 rhino horns, all of which had an estimated black market value of over 50 million Baht, which is approximately 1.5 million US Dollars and gives an indication of the sort of sums that are involved in the illegal animal trade in Thailand.
This particular illicit shipment was actually labelled as containing craft items. The crates were thought to have originated in Nigeria where it was sent to Qatar and Malaysia before being sent onto to Thailand.
Another example of illegal animal smuggling in Thailand occurred in May 2011 when an Indonesian man was arrested at Suvarnabhumi airport after a routine scan of his luggage spotted that were indeed a number of live creatures, which had been hidden inside some of his suitcases. A further search then found over 250 creatures and animals such as tortoises, exotic frogs and even a parrot, hidden inside the bags and ready to be smuggled out of Thailand.
The arrested man claimed he had bought all of the exotic animals at Bangkok’s Chatuchak Market, which in some quarters, is considered to be somewhat of a hub for the illegal animal trade in Thailand.
Whilst the airport officials at Suvarnabhumi airport were praised for their vigilance in both of these cases, some wildlife activists around the world continue to question Thailand’s commitment and determination to stamp out, once and for all, the illegal wildlife trade that is allowed to flourish in places such as Chatuchak Market.
Be Responsible When Buying Animal Based Products
Even throughout the night markets and souvenir stalls that can be found on Koh Samui, especially in Chaweng and Lamai, you might even see products that have been made from animals and the origins of which will most definitely be questionable or even illegal.
However, to the untrained eye it can often be hard to tell if any of the animal products that you see for sale are legal or illegal. This is even more the case when the likelihood is that Thailand is probably somewhat of an unfamiliar setting to you.
Therefore, as a visitor to Koh Samui you ultimately have a responsibility to try and find out what is legal or illegal when it comes to buying what you think could be animal based products. Aside from the moral issues when buying these types of goods or products, you also want to make sure that you stay on the right side of Thai law.
If you do intend to buy any products that are either made from animal parts or exotic animals themselves, then you need to make sure that whatever it is you decide to buy is not illegal or could be the subject of confiscation, fines or even imprisonment, either in Thailand or in your country of residence, should you decide to take said items or animals back home with you.
In Thailand, it is always important to make sure that you stay well within the law and do not make the fatal mistake of buying something that you shouldn’t.
You should also try to make sure that you are not directly supporting animal cruelty or inadvertently supporting the criminal networks that make vast sums of money from the illegal trade of endangered or exotic animals, by purchasing some of the animal based products or souvenirs that you might end up seeing at some of Samui’s night markets.
Finally, as a visitor to Thailand you should also understand that it is important to support the conservation of the country’s rich natural heritage and incredible wildlife.
Ultimately, the decision is yours when it comes to buying goods or souvenirs that might be products of the illegal animal trade. If you are ever unsure or in doubt of the legality or authenticity of such products then don’t buy them, instead just walk away; it really is that simple.
A Quick Guide to Illegal Animal Trade in Thailand
There are several exotic animals or animal parts that you will sometimes see for sale at markets throughout Thailand, even though it is illegal to both buy and sell such things. If you do choose to purchase such goods then you could become an unwittingly involved in the world of illegal animal trade. This could result in you receiving a large fine, being deported or at worst, receiving a prison sentence of up to four years.
Here is a guide to some of the illegal animal products you might see for sale in Thailand:
Snakes are commonly found throughout all areas of Thailand, yet many of them are not protected by any type of law or legislation. Some snake skin based products that are sold in Thailand are perfectly legal and with the snakes being bred on a snake farm for the purpose of being used in clothing, fashion accessories or as souvenirs.
However, any products which have been made from the skin of either pythons or cobras will be illegal as both of these types of snakes are protect by both Thai and international law.
Throughout parts of Asia and Africa, the illegal ivory trade is a huge problem. Attempting to take ivory out of any country is illegal, particularly in Thailand where the authorities in recent years have looked to clean up their act with regards to the trade of ivory within the country. Therefore, never buy any products such as jewellery, statues, carvings or tusks, or anything else for that matter, which may contain or be made from ivory.
Giant Clams and Trumpet Shells
If you see any giant clams or trumpet shells on sale in Thailand you should be aware that they are protected by wildlife laws and it is illegal to buy and sell them in Thailand. You might thing that a giant clam will look nice as an ornament in your home but they really look much nicer at the bottom of the sea, in their natural environment.
There are as many as 5 different types of turtle that are found naturally off Thailand’s Andaman Coast and also in the Gulf of Thailand. All of the turtles that can be found in these waters are classed as being endangered and therefore, it is illegal to buy them in Thailand.
Tigers and Other Large Cats
Tigers, leopards and other large cats are all protected by Thai and international wildlife laws. Rugs made from tiger or leopard skin can sometimes be found at some markets in Thailand, as well as tiger teeth, claws or skulls, all of which are completely illegal.
This is just a small list of some of the endangered animals that you might come across whilst visiting any of the markets in Thailand. If you do see these kinds of things for sale then you are not only urged to exercise a large degree of caution but you are also advised to avoid purchasing exotic animals or products at all costs.