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Thai police catch suspicious driver, find 16 caged tiger cubs

Police in northeastern Thailand who chased a pickup truck trying to avoid a highway checkpoint found unexpected contraband in the back of the vehicle: 16 tiger cubs.

Police Col. Supakorn Khamsingnok said Saturday the driver told police he was paid 15,000 baht ($500) to deliver the cubs from a Bangkok suburb to northeastern Udon Thani province on the border with Laos.

Supakorn said police believe the tigers, packed in eight cages, were being sent outside Thailand. Thailand is a hub of the international black market for protected animals and wildlife parts, often used for traditional East Asian medicines.

The driver faces a possible four-year jail term and 40,000 baht ($1,300) fine on wildlife smuggling-related charges.

The cubs were taken after their seizure Friday to be cared for by wildlife officials.

In May last year, Thai police arrested a man suspected of being a key player in one of the country's largest tiger trafficking rings. They believe the network bought tigers to sell mainly to buyers in China, sending them via land routes through neighboring Laos and Vietnam.