Woman Tries to Smuggle Baby Tiger on Plane

The 2-month-old tiger cub was hidden in a suitcase full of stuffed toys.

August 27, 2010, 11:33 AM

Aug. 27, 2010— -- Of all the things that people have tried to take on vacation with them, this is certainly among the strangest. A Thai woman was arrested after allegedly trying to smuggle a baby tiger cub out of Thailand in her checked luggage.

Authorities first knew something was amiss when the woman checked in for her flight from Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport to Iran. She was acting suspiciously and, while the bag wasn't moving, it sure looked oversized. So airport employees X-rayed the suitcase.

Hidden among stuffed toy tigers was a 2-month-old real tiger cub that had been drugged.

The woman, identified as Piyawan Palasarn, 31, was arrested Sunday and the cub was sent to a wildlife conservation center in Bangkok. Palasarn faces up to four years in prison and a $1,300 fine for two wildlife smuggling-related charges.

This is not the first case of somebody trying to smuggle animals across international borders on a plane. A Peruvian man was arrested last month in Mexico City after trying to smuggle 18 small endangered monkeys under his clothing.

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And a German man stuffed 44 small lizards in his underwear earlier this year before trying to board a flight home from New Zealand.

Smuggling animals is a risky business but can reap large rewards for the traffickers.

The baby cub that Palasarn allegedly tried to take to Iran could have fetched up to $3,200 on the black market, wildlife experts say. Exotic pets are popular in Iran.

Wildlife monitoring group TRAFFIC said investigators are trying to determine if the cub was wild caught or captive-bred, where it came from and the suspect's intended final destination.

Woman Tries to Smuggle Tiger Cub on a Plane

"We applaud all the agencies that came together to uncover this brazen smuggling attempt," said Chris R. Shepherd, TRAFFIC Southeast Asia's deputy regional director.

Shepherd also cautioned, however, that this case demonstrated a real need for constant monitoring and tougher penalties.

"If people are trying to smuggle live tigers in their check-in luggage, they obviously think wildlife smuggling is something easy to get away with and do not fear reprimand," Shepherd said. "Only sustained pressure on wildlife traffickers and serious penalties can change that."

The cub is being cared for at the Rescue Center of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation. DNA samples will be sent to the tiger enclosure at Khaopratab Wildlife Rescue Center in Ratchaburi Province to determine its subspecies, which will help determine its origin.

Tiger populations in Thailand and throughout Asia are critically threatened by poaching and trade to meet the international demand for tiger parts, products and, as illustrated in this case, live tigers, according to TRAFFIC.

The international trade in endangered species is a bit overwhelming. An annual average of more than 1.5 million live birds, 640,000 live reptiles, 300,000 crocodilian skins, 1.6 million lizard skins, 1.1 million snake skins and 150,000 furs were illegally transported from 1995 to 1999, according to TRAFFIC.