When a ranger falls in the forest
The scarcity of Siamese rosewood is driving up prices and giving rise to increasingly organised and dangerous illegal logging gangs like the one that gunned down a young national park officer earlier this month
On the evening of March 14 in the deep forest of Pang Sida National Park, a ranger was shot dead in an encounter with a group transporting illegally logged Siamese rosewood. At the same time in Bangkok 300km away, international conservationists were wrapping up a meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites), which gave greater protection to the tree which is rapidly disappearing from Thai forests.
Thaweesak Chomyong was a 33-year-old former paramilitary border patrol ranger stationed in Kanchanaburi province who returned to his small village in Sa Kaeo province near the park late last year to help care for his ageing parents. He was soon hired as a park ranger on a temporary basis with a salary of 7,500 baht a month. Much of his work consisted of conducting patrols through the rugged terrain of the national park, looking for illegal loggers, encroachers and so on. It's a demanding job, but his military training prepared him for the rigours and he never thought of quitting.
On March 13, Thaweesak and five other rangers, along with two wildlife experts from non-governmental organisations, went into the forest to monitor conservation efforts to protect tigers in the park. Before they left, they were warned by the park chief, Nuwat Leelapata, and other staff that they might encounter illegal loggers along the way as they would be on a route commonly used to smuggle rosewood, known in Thai as phayung, out of the park. The rangers were equipped with HK33 rifles, but had a limited supply of ammunition.
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