Wednesday, February 29, 2012


I didn’t waste much time upon landing in Bangkok. Less than 12 hours after my 22 hour trip I made my way from my hotel to the FREELAND office to get right into the internship. I was able to spend half the day getting to know the organization and some of the staff so I wanted to share a bit of the same with you!


Excerpt from website: 

The multi-billion dollar illegal trade in protected species is one of the most lucrative illicit markets in the world today. Combined with habitat loss, it is driving many species towards extinction. Unchecked nature crime not only ravages biodiversity, but the knock-on effects can unravel entire ecosystems. The loss of important watersheds and carbon sinks, for example, endangers human health and food security. In addition, human trafficking targets vulnerable people for labour and sexual exploitation, destroying lives and tearing families apart. FREELAND believes a compassionate world is a world free of slavery.

FREELAND helps reduce human and wildlife trafficking across Asia by providing direct training and technical assistance to police, customs and environmental agencies to combat poaching, illegal logging and human trafficking. FREELAND is helping governments form task forces, and we facilitate cross-border inter-agency co-operation and civil society action. FREELAND’s trainers are highly qualified, as they are former government enforcement officers.

FREELAND recognizes that poverty creates the conditions for both human and wildlife trafficking -- and poverty simply must be addressed. To this end, the organization helps vulnerable rural communities develop plant nurseries, fish and mushroom farms, renewable energy sources and reforestation projects. This makes a real difference in people’s lives while reducing the pressures on ecosystems.

FREELAND’s public awareness campaigns expose the roles that consumer demand and apathy play in wildlife and human trafficking. These campaigns also highlight the threats such crimes pose to natural ecosystems and our way of life. FREELAND’s campaigns have a direct message:

   Don’t buy protected animal and plant species, don’t ignore the exploitation of human beings and notify authorities if you witness these crimes

FREELAND’s public awareness team is staffed by creative and inspired people. Collaborations with international advertising firm JWT, the Discovery Channel, CNN and other media outlets bring messages to millions of people around the world, changing attitudes and encouraging political leaders to act.

FREELAND’s commitment to the region runs deep: While several international NGOs working here have headquarters outside the region, FREELAND is the only international environmental and human rights organization headquartered in Asia with multi-national staff.

FREELAND is committed doing even more to protect the rights, habitat and existence of all living beings in Southeast Asia and around the world. To succeed, FREELAND needs support more than ever.

Successes include:
•    Being chosen by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to lead an $8 million regional project to help Asia protect its unique biological diversity and fight against the illegal trafficking of wildlife.
•    Assisted by FREELAND, a multi-agency law enforcement team searched the houses of two suspects believed to be involved in a tiger-poaching ring, confiscating illegal boar teeth and weapons. The raid followed up on the June 26th arrest of two suspects charged with the killing of a female tiger and two cubs in Thailand’s Huai Kha Kheang wildlife sanctuary.
•    With support from FREELAND, Thailand's environmental police arrested a man who was providing protection and financial channels for what may be the country's largest tiger trafficking ring. "FREELAND and Thai Police stand together in sending a signal to the traffickers that Thailand is becoming a much more difficult place to do their business." said FREELAND executive director Steve Galster.
•    Acting on intelligence from FREELAND, Thai Police arrested a UAE citizen preparing to fly first class from Bangkok to Dubai with various rare and endangered animals in his suitcases.  Undercover officers from the Thai Nature Crime Police had been monitoring the suspect from his illegal purchase to the moment he stepped into Bangkok's Suvarnabuhmi Airport where he was observed receiving several suitcases from another suspect packed with the animals, all of which were all still alive. 
•    Acting on a tip-off by FREELAND Foundation, Royal Thai Police's special unit on human trafficking rescued victims of an international sex trafficking ring, arrested two traffickers, and are now hunting down other leaders of the operation.  Police raided a downtown Bangkok apartment that harbored up to 20 women after receiving reports from FREELAND and a UN team about Uzbek women wanting to flee their criminal controllers.


Currently, FREELAND has funds to continue its field work, but there is a strong need for compliance oversight to ensure that wildlife monitoring and training is conducted according to established plans and procedures. Staff and rangers in the field are primarily Thai and despite the effective work that is done by field workers, communication gaps prevent much of the work from being reported and disseminated to a wider audience, specifically current and potential donors. In order for FREELAND to continue its important work and attract new donors, its successes must be measured and communicated effectively.

Identifying this need for an additional skilled worker, FREELAND foundation has created an internship position based at their headquarters in Bangkok for a minimum of six months, which is a position I have accepted and is currently underway. I am currently assisting field work to ensure compliance in various projects such as wildlife monitoring and training as well as serving to document activities and data for dissemination to donors. I am also assisting in general and skilled office work in Bangkok as the need arises.

I am proud and excited to be a part of such an action-oriented group and look forward to sharing with you the work that is being done to protect Thailand’s wildlife. 

Myself (left) with FREELAND staff
 Follow FREELAND on Facebook and be sure to visit their website!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Return to the Land of Tigers

Greetings from Thailand!

It has been a long time coming, but I am finally back in Asia. If you are reading this then you are likely already aware why I am here and likely were a part of the reason! As someone passionate about tigers and wanting to save them there really isn’t anywhere else you can be. Asia is home to the 3,200 wild tigers that remain and it is, ultimately, here that the species will be conserved or become extinct.

The situation is dire; the population has fallen to just 3% of what it was a century ago and now occupy 7% of their historic range. In the past decade alone, tigers lost 40% of their habitat. Three subspecies of tiger – Bali, Caspian and Javan – have already become extinct with a fourth, the South China tiger, likely extinct in the wild. The subspecies that remain – the Bengal, Indo-chinese, Malayan, Sumatran and Amur tigers – survive primarily in small, isolated pockets of habitat and face serious threats. Tigers everywhere are being killed for their body parts for use in Traditional Chinese Medicine, often destined for China. Prey species that tigers rely on to survive, including wild deer, bovids and pigs, are being poached as well. Moreover, even protected areas often are not safe from habitat destruction, fueled by agriculture, logging, and the needs of a skyrocketing Asian population that has tripled in the last 50 years.

However, there is still hope. There are a number of protected areas that, if truly protected, can sew the seeds of recovery by fostering breeding tigers and connecting them to other habitats at a landscape level. Moreover, through bolstering law enforcement capacity, we can not only bring wildlife traders to justice, but also prevent crimes from occurring at the field level. There are many organizations fighting for the tiger with dedicated staff. Thanks to your support, I now count myself among them.

In early January, I made the trip from Toronto, Canada to Bangkok, Thailand to conduct an internship with FREELAND Foundation, which fights for a world free of human and wildlife trafficking. This organization supports on-the-ground work to protect species like tigers and elephants and they were generous enough to offer me an internship to assist them in their efforts. I was fortunate to receive financial support from a number of fantastic individuals and because of your generosity, I want to share my adventures here in Thailand with you through an engaging blog. This is a more enriched, frequently updated alternative to a monthly eNewsletter I had proposed.

I hope you enjoy this blog which will document the internship via articles, conservation features, photos and videos. I strongly believe in being accountable for the support I have received and, as a result, I want to clearly communicate how I am using funds raised and maintain open lines of communication for feedback. I couldn’t have accepted this internship without you and for that I am thankful.

Let’s help save the tiger and other species together.

-Eric “Kuba” Ash