A first-class passenger has been arrested at a Thai airport after being found carrying suitcases 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 arrest. 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 had been placed inside canisters with air holes.
Authorities have said the man was part of a trafficking network. They are searching for 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."