A court in western Thailand on Monday sentenced five poachers to prison terms of five years each for killing a female tiger and her cub in a national park last year.
The provincial court ruled the five men broke conservation laws by killing the protected animals in Thong Pha Phum National Park, Kanchanaburi province, before skinning their carcasses and smoking their bones to prepare them for sale on the illicit market.
Park rangers made the discovery in January last year and seized the tiger parts. Images distributed by officials and taken in the jungle showed the skins of two flayed tigers. Bones and carcass parts were also seen in pictures taken nearby.
The court rejected the men’s argument that they had killed the tigers in revenge for attacks on livestock, ruling they “should have felt protective of nature” given that they lived in a community near the forest.
Tigers are an endangered species with only about 4,500 remaining in the wild, according to the the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). Though their numbers have increased in recent years, WWF says fewer than 200 of the big cats remain in national parks and wildlife sanctuaries across Thailand.
Poaching, one of the biggest threats to tigers’ survival, is driven largely by demand in China and Vietnam for their bones, skins and other body parts used in traditional medicine.
The safety and effectiveness of traditional Chinese medicine is still heavily debated in China, where it has both adherents and skeptics.
Though many of the remedies in TCM have been in use for hundreds of years, critics argue that there is often little verifiable scientific evidence or peer reviewed studies to support their supposed benefits.
Thong Pha Phum National Park Chief Charoen Jaichon welcomed the court ruling.
“I’m happy that justice has been delivered,” he told CNN on Tuesday. “This is a strong warning to any illegal hunters in Thailand’s national parks.”