Thailand’s missing macaques: Chinese medicine or US labs to blame?

Authorities have blamed the latest monkey smuggling case in Thailand on demand from traditional Chinese medicine – but evidence indicates traffickers supplying US laboratories are the real culprits.

The Nation

The Nation



March 8, 2023

BANGKOK – In the latest smuggling case, 47 long-tailed macaques were found caged in a truck stopped by police in Nakhon Ratchasima’s Non Sung district on Monday. Police said the two suspects had confessed, claiming they did know that long-tailed macaques are protected under the Wildlife Preservation and Protection Act. The suspects had agreed to smuggle the monkeys from Khao Ta Khrong National Park in Ratchaburi to Laos via Nong Khai in exchange for 17,000 baht, investigators said.

Peersasak Paksasuay, director of conservation for Nakhon Ratchasima, said national parks were working with police in Nakhon Ratchasima, Chaiyaphum and Buri Ram to stop wildlife smuggling. He added that the macaques were destined for China for probable use in Chinese traditional medicine.

However, wildlife experts have pinpointed the global shortage of laboratory monkeys since Covid as the real reason why macaques are disappearing from the forests of Southeast Asia.

Edwin Wiek, founder of Wildlife Friends Foundation of Thailand (WFFT), told the UK’s Guardian newspaper last month that the price of macaques had skyrocketed after China suspended their export in March 2020.

“The price of long-tailed macaques on the illegal wildlife market was really low – $20 or $30 [700-1,000 baht] per piece. I wouldn’t call that a really sustainable kind of wildlife trade. But now the prices went up to five to 10 times more,” Wiek said.

In the US, the cost of lab monkeys has risen to between $20,000 and $24,000 in 2023, according to an estimate by investment bank Evercore.

And after a clampdown on smuggling macaques out of Cambodia, evidence suggests traffickers have turned their focus to Thailand. In November, a Cambodian wildlife official was among eight people charged with taking macaques from the wild for sale to US laboratories.

In Thailand, Lt Col Anek Nakthorn, deputy police superintendent of the environmental crime division, told the Guardian that “both tourist attractions and non-tourist attractions, temples with monkeys, are on our watchlist [for monkey traffickers]”. He said he was aware of at least 10 cases in central Thailand since Covid.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature last year placed long-tailed macaques on its endangered list for the first time due to habitat loss and “unprecedented levels” of hunting and trapping.

The two suspects caught in Nakhon Ratchasima on Monday face imprisonment and/or a fine for possessing and selling protected animals without permission, police said. Meanwhile the rescued macaques are being taken to Phu Khiao wildlife centre in Chaiyaphum for rehabilitation and release.

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