Rescuers find that no good deed goes unpunished in Thailand
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2005:
PHUKET, Thailand–As the tsunami waves receded on December
26 and the size of the disaster became evident, Soi Dog Foundation
volunteer John Dalley e-mailed to the International Fund for Animal
Welfare a plea for help on behalf of the animals. No one responded.
Dalley, Soi Dog founder Margot Park, and the other Soi Dog
volunteers took in as many human and animal refugees as they could,
then tried again.
ANIMAL PEOPLE wired relief funding on December 29. The Best
Friends Animal Society sent aid the next day.
The IFAW response came at last on February 16, from IFAW
grants manager Laura Saliba. “Thank you for your interest in IFAW
grants,” Saliba wrote. “Unfortunately, IFAW is currently not
accepting unsolicited grant requests. We receive a large number of
worthwhile proposals, and we are only able to fund a portion of
those due to limited funds, and the desire to be as effective as
possible in the work we support. “
As of the most recent IFAW filing of IRS Form 990, it had
cash and securities reserves of approximately $17.8 million.
IFAW representative Anand Ramanathan meanwhile wrote in a
January 1 web posting that “In the tourist destination of Phuket,
reports of abandoned dogs and displaced livestock have been received
and we are in touch with a local NGO (Soi Dog Foundation
www.soidogfoundation.org) to facilitate their animal rescue work.”
Another IFAW representative, Mick McIntyre, briefly visited
the Soi Dog Foundation two weeks later, but did nothing, Dalley
told ANIMAL PEOPLE, to facilitate any of the Soi Dog animal rescue
After the January/February 2005 edition of ANIMAL PEOPLE
exposed this and other discrepancies between IFAW claims and reports
from the field, Edwin Wiek of the Wildlife Friends Rescue Center in
Amphoe Thayang e-mailed to ANIMAL PEOPLE on January 29 that “In fact,
IFAW has supported the relief efforts from the first week,” but did
not reply to a direct question from ANIMAL PEOPLE as to just what
work IFAW funded, where, when, to what extent.
But Wiek had other problems. As a Wildlife Friends press
release recounted on February 3, “Dutch-born wildlife activist Edwin
Wiek was briefly jailed today after appearing in provincial court to
face charges relating to the possession of wildlife without proper
documents. Wiek, who runs the acclaimed Wildlife Friends Rescue
Center, was charged early in August 2004 after a series of raids on
his rescue center.”
Wildlife Friends accused Thai officials of “trying to stop
Wiek’s involvement in investigating the illegal cross-border trade in
wildlife, in particular orangutans.
“The Wildlife Friends Rescue Center houses over 150 protected
wild animals,” the press release said, “most of which have suffered
severe distress, are sick, or have physical disabilities.
Officials of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plants
said that for nineteen of these animals the documents were not in
order. Consequently, in July 2004 some of the animals were
confiscated and removed from the center with great force on the order
of Schwann Tunhikorn, director of the DNP Wildlife Conservation
Office and Thailand’s office of the Convention on International Trade
in Endangered Species. Two of the animals were badly injured during
their capture,” Wildlife Friends alleged.
“After hearing about the arrest of Wiek,” the press release
finished, “Major-General Sawek Pinsinchai, commander of the Thai
Royal Forestry Police, sped to Petcha-buri provincial court and
bailed Wiek out.”
Wrote Jim Pollard and Sucheera Pinijparakarn of The Nation in
Bangkok, “Supporters say Wiek is being persecuted by the National
Parks Department for pursuing the Safari World orangutan scandal,
which received worldwide publicity during the CITES conference here
last September. The case is extraordinary, given the department’s
lack of action against Safari World over what has been called the
biggest smuggling case ever of endangered primates.”
Safari World until August 2003 was notorious for staging
boxing matches between captive orangutans. The boxing matches were
suspended coinciding with a nationwide crackdown on wildlife
On November 22, 2003, Sawek Pinsinchai announced that a
raid on Safari World by 200 police officers had discovered 115
orangutans, of whom the park had permits to keep only 44. DNA
testing found that at least 12 orangutans could not be offspring of
any of the permitted orangutans, and were therefore probably
smuggled into Thailand.
After Indonesia and Malaysia sought to repatriate the
orangutans, Safari World claimed that 41 of them had died from
pneumonia and were cremated. In August 2004 a follow-up police raid
found 36 of the “dead” orangutans hidden on the property.
In November 2004, 22 orangutans believed to have come from
Safari World turned up at Koh Kong Safari World, a similar facility
in Cambodia. “On November 10, the Cambodian office for CITES sent a
letter to Ly Yong Phat, owner of Safari World’s parent company, Koh
Kong International Resort Casino, inviting him to begin the
application process,” reported Liam Cochrane of the Pnom Penh Post on
December 22. The two Safari Worlds have different listed owners,
but “conservationists believe the same animal trainers work in both
parks,” Cochrane wrote.
Wiek was instrumental in bringing the case to global notice.
Quite apart from whatever IFAW and Wiek did or did not do,
the Soi Dog Foundation ran into difficulties with the Dog Rescue
Center Samui, founded in 1999 by German expatriate Brigitte Gomm.
Located outside the tsunami-stricken region, the Dog Rescue Center
Samui in early January 2005 began electronic fundraising in the name
of assisting the Soi Dog Foundation, even though the Soi Dog
Foundation has an internationally accessible PayPal account.
Gomm and three staff members then visited the Soi Dog
Foundation on January 20, clashed with Dalley and Park, withheld at
least 5,000 euros and some dog food they said they had intended to
deliver, ripped Soi Dog in an e-mail to donors, and asked for donor
approval to transfer the funding to a new animal rescue project on
Koh Payam island.
The Gomm allegations against the Soi Dog Foundation
distinctly contrasted with evaluations by Humane Society
International director of Asian programs Sherry Grant and Animals
Asia Foundation founder Jill Robinson, who spent several days
helping the Soi Dog Foundation relief effort earlier in January.
Both Grant and Robinson were extensively quoted in the
January/February 2005 edition of ANIMAL PEOPLE.
Gomm received electronic support from one “Aaron M.
Mazzrillo, Freelance Journalist, New York Times.” ANIMAL PEOPLE
found that no one of that name or any similar name has had a byline
in The New York Times at least since 1996, appears on the New York
Times roster of staff and correspondents, or has ever had a byline
anywhere that turned up in repeated electronic searches of online
“The Soi Dog Foundation has always prided itself on the fact
that all funds raised go directly to the animals,” Park said. “We
have no paid staff. Expenses, including for vehicles, fuel, our
web site, etcetera, are met by our volunteers themselves. We are a
very young and small organization which has been catapulted into a
huge amount of work and publicity due to the tsunami. We are in the
process of finding an accounting firm to help us produce proper
reports, which we will link to our website. All this takes time,
especially since we are still so incredibly busy. We have many
visiting vets here at the moment and need to take advantage of that.”
Soi Dog Foundation balance sheets from 2003-2004 are in
possession of ANIMAL PEOPLE, and show no irregularities.
“In the past weeks, we have been visited by the leaders of
the World Society for the Protection of Animals, HSI, the Animals
Asia Foundation, and IFAW,” Park added. “These people have
witnessed our work and [IFAW excepted] have pledged funding to us.
WSPA in particular is keen to make Phuket an example to the rest of
Thailand of how to effectively manage a stray dog population.
“It is often said that out of everything bad, something good
happens,” Park continued. “In the case of the tsunami, we have
not only been able to alleviate the immediate suffering of animals
here, and in the surrounding regions, but are in a position now to
be far more effective in the future.
“In the past, the only feeding we could do was through
individual volunteers feeding at particular temples at their own
expense,” Park said. ” We are now setting up a network of people
including many Thais, who will monitor animals, feed them, and
report any sickness, injuries, or new arrivals to a central number
for an immediate response.
“We will also upgrade our clinic,” Park pledged, “including
hiring our own Thai vet and vet nurse. This will enable us to
sterilize and treat many more dogs and cats than before. New
volunteers are coming forward. We are very confident,” Park
finished, “that the condition of the stray animal population of
Phuket will improve dramatically over the coming months and years.”