One of Thailand's most prolific lizard poachers was arrested with hundreds of water monitor lizards destined for Chinese dinner plates, authorities said on February 17.
More than 200 reptiles were discovered in water-filled tanks in Boonlue Prasitsom's warehouse in Ang Thong Province, central Thailand, during a morning raid by Thai Nature Crime Police.
"At first we didn't expect to find so many lizards, but it turned out to be a lot. He is one of Thailand's main lizard poachers," inspector Kiattisak Bamrungsawat, deputy commander of the wildlife force said.
He said Mr Boonlue was believed to be planning to smuggle the creatures through Laos into China on Friday.
The arrest is part of a crackdown on lizard smuggling as Thailand struggles to stem the flow of protected species through its borders.
Conservation group Freeland Foundation said the raid was an "important step" in an investigation into a criminal network that authorities believe is behind "trafficking huge amounts of threatened wildlife into China".
"Freeland congratulates the Thai Nature Crime Police for acting swiftly and professionally on a tip-off that has put a wildlife criminal out of business, while freeing hundreds of wild animals," said the organisation's director Steven Galster.
Mr Boonlue had allegedly been poaching lizards from the wild for over 10 years, Mr Freeland said.
Police were clearly impressed with the suspect's skills at handling the creatures and even required his help in transporting them.
"I think he is the best lizard catcher in Thailand, he is very professional," Inspector Kiattisak said.
Boonlue now faces a maximum of four years in prison and a 40,000 baht fine (about $1,300).
Monitor lizards are a common sight in Thailand's waterways and police said the protected species is poached for export, mainly to China and Vietnam where they are prized for their meat.
Freeland said both countries are the major consumers of Southeast Asia's protected reptiles and the region is a source of illegal wildlife "supplying a vast global market whose profit margins are surpassed only by drugs and arms".
Last week police arrested an Indonesian man carrying hundreds of live animals in his airport luggage, including dozens of snakes and one of the world's rarest tortoises.
He is thought to have picked them up at one of Bangkok's biggest markets.