Tiger Cub Found in Luggage With Stuffed Toys at Bangkok Airport

A two-month-old tiger cub was found sedated and hidden among stuffed toy tigers in luggage at Bangkok airport after scanners detect heartbeat.

The cat's out of the bag—at least for a woman caught smuggling a live, two-month-old, drugged tiger cub in a suitcase full of toys (pictured) at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi International Airport on Sunday. Photo: Sulma Warne / Traffic

A live tiger cub was found drugged and hidden among stuffed-tiger toys in the luggage of a woman at Bangkok’s airport, a wildlife smuggling watchdog group reported Thursday.

The woman, a Thai national, was trying to board a flight to Iran on Sunday when she had trouble checking in her oversized bag, according to Traffic, a wildlife trade monitoring group.

Airport staff “suspected something amiss when they scanned the bag and X-ray images showed an item resembling a real cat,” the group stated.

Thai veterinarian Phimchanok Srongmongkul nurses a tiger cub at the Wildlife Health Unit at the Department of National Parks in Bangkok on August 27. "He was very calm, half asleep and half awake, when we rescued him," an official with Thailand's Wild Fauna and Flora Protection Division told the Bangkok Post. Photo: Sulma Warne / Traffic

The woman, identified as Piyawan Palasarn, faces up to four years in prison and a 40,000 baht ($1,300) fine for two wildlife smuggling-related charges, police said.

She denied the luggage with the cub belonged to her and said another passenger had asked her to carry it for them, said Adisorn Noochdumrong, a Thai wildlife official.

The cub, estimated to be about 2 months old, was sent to a wildlife conservation center in Bangkok. “The cub arrived at our unit Monday,” said Chaiyaporn Chareesaeng, head of the Wildlife Health Unit at the Department of National Parks’ Wildlife and Plant Conservation Center, where the animal was put under close supervision.

With wildlife trade on the rise, officials at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi International Airport who rescued the live tiger cub (pictured) had just gone through a training course on how to spot smugglers, which was sponsored by the ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network, partly funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Photo: Sulma Warne / Traffic

“He appeared exhausted, dehydrated and couldn’t walk, so we had to give him oxygen, water and lactation,” said Chaiyaporn. “We have monitored him closely. As of today, he looks better and can walk a little now.” A DNA test was expected to provide details about its origin, said Chaiyaporn.

The cub could have fetched about 100,000 baht ($3,200) on the black market in Iran, where it is popular to have exotic pets, Adisorn said. He said he did not know what the woman allegedly intended to do with this particular cub.

Thai officials are investigating whether the two-month-old cub was caught in the wild or bred in captivity, as well as where it came from and the suspect’s intended final destination.

All tiger subspecies are listed under Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), an international agreement that prohibits international commercial trade in the big cats (pictured, a live tiger cub found Sunday at a Bangkok airport). Photo: Sulma Warne / Traffic

Tiger populations 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,” said TRAFFIC, some of whose funds come from governments around the world.

Chris Shepherd, TRAFFIC Southeast Asia’s deputy regional director, praised various Thai and U.S. agencies for working to clamp down on wildlife smuggling.

He  said: “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. Only sustained pressure on wildlife traffickers and serious penalties can change that.” [via MS NBC, National Geographic and Traffic]

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