Seventy-six pangolins rescued after botched smuggling operation in Thailand

Seventy-six wild pangolins were rescued after smugglers stuffed them in mesh bags to be shipped to China where they were destined to be eaten.

The driver from the poaching syndicate, Sompol Mekchai, 45, was stopped after trying to evade a police checkpoint in Prachuap Khiri Khan, southern Thailand on Sunday (March 3).

Officers from the Sam Roi Yot district chased Sompol’s pickup truck as they suspected the strong odour of wild animals was coming from his vehicle.

The 18 mesh bags of pangolins were found stacked in the cargo area underneath a pile of wooden planks and construction equipment, which had been laid out to try and hide the animals.

Sompol admitted smuggling the animals and told police that he received the orders by phone but had ''never met his employer''.

He said he was under instructions to drive 200 miles and transfer the live pangolins to a cargo ship bound for China. They would then be unloaded and served up illegally for wealthy locals to eat.

Sompol, who has been in custody while police interrogate him, said: ''I had done it for three times now. All I had to do was to pick up the pangolins from Khlong Wan Subdistrict, Prachuap Khiri Khan and drive them to Pathum Thani Province where the ship was.''

The smuggler is facing charges of illegal possession of protected wildlife, which violates the Wildlife Act of 1992.

Police Colonel Chalermwut Wongwiangchan, the Sam Roi Yot police chief, has ordered officers to investigate more details on the trafficking route and the identification of Sompol’s boss.