Thai coup may hit wildlife traffic

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 2006:
BANGKOK–The September 20, 2006 Thai
military coup postponed for six days the already
long delayed return of 41 smuggled orangutans
from Thailand to Indonesia. Still, Wildlife
Friends Found-ation Thailand founder Edwin Wiek
told members of the Asian Animal Protection
Network, “We believe that under the new rule the
conservation of wildlife will improve.”
The repatriation flight, orginally set
for September 23, was rescheduled for September
Another seven orangutans are suffering
from hepatitis, the Jakarta Post reported on
September 16. Indonesia has refused to accept
them, at least until after they recover.
“The Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation
and Wildlife Friends, who were to facilitate the
repatriation for the Indonesian government, were
told that the Indonesian Navy plane that was to
pick up the apes could not land in Thailand until
further notice,” Wiek said earlier.

The plane, a C-130 Hercules, was
designed to fly tanks into trouble spots. The
mission might therefore have been dangerously
confused with military activity.
The orangutans were central to two of the
many prominent corruption cases that Thai Army
chief General Sonthi Boonyaratglin cited as his
reasons for leading the bloodless coup that
deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Safari World

The orangutans became a cause celebré in
November 2003, when Thai forestry officials
impounded 115 orangutans altogether at the Safari
World zoo in Bangkok. Investigating alleged
cruelty in connection with kick boxing matches
held between orangutans to amuse visitors, the
forestry department found that many of the
orangutans were kept in cramped and unhealthy
conditions, and were not properly registered.
“Safari World claimed that the many young
orangutans were produced by a successful breeding
program, but DNA testing paid for by the
Orangutan Foundation found in 2004 that at least
72 of the orangutans were illegally smuggled into
Thailand,” summarized Karmele Llano of the Dutch
organization Stichting ProAnimalia International,
in a September 2005 letter to ANIMAL PEOPLE.
Llano, Wiek, and others formed a
coalition called Send Them Back Home to try to
return the orangutans to Indonesia. Many of the
impounded orangutans meanwhile vanished, mostly
before they were physically removed from Safari
World in August 2004.
“At least 15 of them reportedly died, in
strange circumstances, without adequate medical
documentation,” wrote Llano.
Twenty-two orangutans were somehow
smuggled to Cambodia, where they were found
performing kick-boxing exhibitions at a casino.
Five were loaned to the Chiang Mai Night Safari

Night Safari

“Night Safari has veterinarians and
everything to take care of them, so we lent them
temporarily,” National Parks director Damrong
Phidej told Associated Press.
Opened in late 2005, the $30 million
Chiang Mai Night Safari Zoo was politely
described by Associated Press as “a project
initiated by Thaksin in his home town.”
“The project was not brought before
Parliament for deliberation and suspiciously
favored a group of people with vested interests
in hotels and tourism,” summarized Chaiphan
Praphasawat of the We Love Chiang Mai coalition,
to The Nation, of Bangkok.
The We Love Chiang Mai coalition included
local zoo opponents, environmentalists, and
animal advocates who became concerned about the
deaths of animals who were obtained and held in
temporary quarters while the Night Safari was
built. They soon found much more to worry about,
including allegedly obsolete and substandard
habitat designs and questionable transactions
arranged to obtain animals.
Wildlife Fund Thailand president Pisit Na
Phatthalung noted in November 2005 that
then-Natural Resources and Environment Ministry
vice-minister Plodprasop Suraswadi was paid more
than $5,250 a month to double as chief executive
officer of the Chiang Mai Night Safari Zoo.
“We also found that most of the top
executives were close to Plodprasop and they
received ludicrous salaries,” Pisit Na
Phatthalung told The Nation.
Both Thaksin and Plodprasop were sued on
June 7, 2006 by the We Love Chiang Mai
Coalition, for allegedly improperly creating the
Night Safari Zoo in a national park.
At request of the We Love Chiang Mai
Coalition, the Thai National Human Rights
Commission in July 2006 began investigating land
deals made to add an elephant park to the Night
Safari Zoo.
Plodprasop, who previously served as
fisheries minister, lost that post and
eventually lost the Natural Resources and
Environ-ment Ministry amid allegations of
facilitating wildlife trafficking. His most
notorious deal was authorizing the 2002 export of
100 tigers to a privately owned zoo or tiger
farm, depending on definitions, in Hainan,
While Thaksin has often posed as an
animal lover, including in public denunciations
of wildlife trafficking, he defended Thai
cockfighters against pressure to end cockfighting
that has intensified since 2004 due to outbreaks
of the avian influenza H5N1, which have killed
more than 130 people worldwide. Many Thai cases
have been linked to the transport, exhibition,
and sale of gamecocks.

Kenya deal

Plodprasop embarrassed the Thaksin
government in November 2005 by disclosing his
intent to open a restaurant at the Night Safari
Zoo that would serve dog meat and the meat of
lions, tigers, elephants, and giraffes.
Plodprasop spoke only days after Thaksin and
Kenyan President Mwai Kbaki signed the most
notorious of the Chiang Mai Night Safari Zoo
animal acquisition agreements.
As the transaction was originally
structured, Kenya was to send the Chiang Mai
Night Safari Zoo as many as 300 animals of
approximately 30 species, including lions,
elephants, hippos, and rhinos.
The deal was scaled back under opposition
led by Youth for Conservation and Africa Network
for Animal Welfare founder Josphat Ngonyo to
include only about 100 animals, chiefly zebras,
giraffes, and gazelles–but opposition from
Ngonyo and current YfC president Steve Itela
Nairobi High Court Justice Joseph Nyamu on July
4, 2006 delayed until September 25 hearing
arguments on the legality of exporting Kenyan
animals to the Night Safari Zoo. Nyamu in
December 2005 issued a temporary injunction
blocking the exports, and has repeatedly
extended it.
The coup “has effectively killed the
proposal,” reported Bogonko Bosire of Agence
“The deal is as good as dead,” affirmed
a source whom Bosire identified only as “a senior
official in Kenya’s tourismministry. Ironically,
it’s a bit of a relief,” the source said,
“since the government has come under intense
pressure to stop it.”
Thaksin denied having personal economic
interests in Kenya, but Kenyan Tourism and
Wildlife Minister Morris Dzoro contradicted
Thaksin’s claims at a June 2006 press conference
in Nairobi.
“Thaksin has asked us about putting up a
hotel here in Kenya and we are considering his
application just like any other investor,” Dzoro
The Thai coup proceeded with the apparent
endorsement of King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
Ceremonially reigning for 59 years, the
78-year-old king and his wife, Queen Sirikit,
are outspoken animal advocates. In 2002 King
Bhumibol published an 84-page biography of Khun
Tongdaeng, a street dog he adopted in 1998, and
in his birthday speech called for better
treatment of street dogs and elephants.
At the king’s request, the Thai national
police added eight former street dogs to their
elite airport security dog team.
A year later, at the queen’s request,
Prime Minister Thaksin denounced animal
trafficking as immoral, “especially if the
animals are to be killed for meat,” and
initiated crackdowns on both wildlife trafficking
and the sale of dogs for human consumption.
Dog-eating by ethnic Chinese immigrants who fled
to Thailand from Vietnam during conflict between
Vietnam and China in the 1970s has often become a
flashpoint in cultural conflicts in the Thai
northeast, Thaksin’s political stronghold.
Wildlife trafficking arrests and seizures
have continued. So has the commerce. The
biggest recent bust came on July 18, 2006.
“After receiving a tip from the new Association
of Southeast Asian Nations Wildlife Enforcement
Network,” the Bankok Post reported, officials
from three Thai government agencies “detained
four dealers for questioning and confiscated over
250 purported shahtoosh shawls [made from the fur
of poached Himalayan antelope called chiru],
“which can cost as much as $12,000 apiece.”

Wiek case

“When you read this,” Edwin Wiek posted
to the Asian Animal Protection Network, “you
almost believe the Thai authorities are actually
really doing something to stop the illegal
wildlife trade. Please don’t be fooled. The
traders will not go to jail, they will not get a
fine and they might even get their goods back,”
Wiek predicted. “There is no law that forbids
keeping foreign wild animals or parts of wild
animals. Traffickers can only get in trouble
when they are caught red-handed smuggling the
goods into the country. In this case they were
But Wiek got into trouble in early 2005
for keeping 11 macaques who were turned over to
the Thai Animal Guardians Association by their
former owners, and relocated to better housing
at Wildlife Friends after the Thai forestry
department declined to take them. Wiek was in
August 2006 fined $525 and given a suspended
eight-month jail sentence for possessing the
macaques without holding a permit to do so.
“Wiek, a Dutch national, who has spent
the past five years setting up one of the
country’s top animal centers, is the first
activist to receive such a sentence,” reported
Pennapa Hongthong and Jim Pollard of The Nation.
“Wiek claimed the charges were pushed by a senior
official who was upset by his efforts to force
the government to return the smuggled orangutans
found at Safari World to Indonesia.”
“No one will want to provide shelter to
unwanted wildlife through fear that one day they
might be arrested and charged with the same
offence as Wiek,” said Animal Guardians
Association chair Roger Lohanon.
Responded Thai wildlife department deputy
director Schawan Tunhikorn, “I didn’t abuse my
power. I just did my job in protecting wildlife.”
“To the animal welfare community, Edwin
Wiek is someone who works to help Thai wild
animals in distress,” e-mailed Indian animal
advocate and journalist Azam Siddiqui,
mentioning Wiek’s “contributions to the animals
of India as well.”
Elaborated Siddiqui, “Last year, on
coming to know of a zoo exchange between the Thai
zoological authorities and the Assam State Zoo
here in India, Wiek warned me that the
orangutans involved could be those who were
smuggled into Thailand. Wiek brought a
nine-member Thai TV crew to Assam in November
2005. He met with the Forest Minister of Assam
and the zoo divisional forest officer in charge,
and exchanged a few thoughts with the zoo vets
about treating an injured tiger. Everyone was
impressed with the trouble that he took to come
all the way from Thailand to Assam.”
“Edwin Wiek has the support of all animal
welfare people, not only in Asia but around the
world,” added Blue Cross of India chief
executive Chinny Krishna. “In much of Asia and
in many other parts of the world, money speaks.
Wiek is a soft target because he lacks the
monetary power of Safari World.”
The new government of Thailand, with
King Bhumibol as titular head, is expected to
erase many suspected unjust convictions of
opponents of the Thaksin regime, leaving hope
that Wiek’s conviction might be set aside.

Print Friendly

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.