What looked like a beating heart was the tip-off for X-ray scanners at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport. Inside an over-sized suitcase being checked in by a 31-year-old Thai national was a sedated tiger cub packed alongside a stuffed toy tiger, presumably to try to fool authorities manning the scanner.Piyawan Palasarn claimed she was carrying the animal for someone else when she was arrested Sunday. She had been booked on a Mahan Air flight to Iran but it remains unclear if that was her final destination.
Details of the incident weren't revealed until Thursday. The wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC stated on its website that an investigation is being conducted to determine whether the cub was caught in the wild or captive-bred, and its place of origin.
The cub is being cared for at a Bangkok wildlife care facility and it's hoped DNA will help determine to which subspecies it belongs. It arrived at the facility dehydrated and exhausted but is doing much better and has begun to walk.
"I was a bit shocked because an animal isn't supposed to be treated like this," Nirath Nipanant, chief of the airport's wildlife checkpoint, told the Associated Press. "Had the animal passed the oversize baggage check and gone through four to five hours of travel, its chances of survival would have been slim."
Tiger populations throughout Asia are critically threatened because of widespread poaching and black-market trading operations. Tigers are listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
Chris Shepherd, the Southeast Asia regional director for TRAFFIC, applauded the way authorities handled the situation but added: "If people are trying to smuggle live tigers in their check-in luggage, the 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."
Palasarn, who was charged with two smuggling-related charges, faces up to four years in prison and a $1,300 fine.
-- Pete Thomas-- Top image courtesy of TRAFFIC. Bottom image courtesy of Suvarnabhumi Airport Wildlife Checkpoint of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation
-- Editor's note: A slightly different version of this post appears on the GrindTV.com outdoors blog