In the early hours of a Sunday morning this past March, officers manning a roadside checkpoint in Thailand’s Prachuap Khiri Khan province were hardly fooled when an approaching pick-up attempted to bypass their blockade by hastily detouring down a side road 300m away.
The officers gave chase and pulled the vehicle over. Its load of construction materials appeared innocuous enough, but no stack of lumber could disguise the odd odor. It did not take the officers long to uncover 18 net sacks containing 76 live pangolins, among the most illegally traded endangered mammal species on the planet.
The driver, Sompol Mekchai, confessed that this shipment, valued at more than US$300,000, was his third job trafficking within Thailand these shy, insect-eating, scaly animals playfully described by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as resembling artichokes with legs and tails.