Accused of involvement in elephant poaching, Thai officials raid Wildlife Friends

From ANIMAL PEOPLE,  March 2012:

Accused of involvement in elephant poaching,  Thai officials raid Wildlife Friends

BANGKOK--Responding to a week of daily raids by 60 to 70 staff of the Thai National Park,  Wildlife and Plants Conservation Division,  Wildlife Friends Foundation of Thailand founder Edwin Wiek convened a February 21,  2012 press conference at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand in Bangkok to present,  Wiek said, “new facts on elephant poaching and the illegal elephant and wildlife trade.”

The March 2012 edition of ANIMAL PEOPLE went to press 24 hours earlier,  but Wiek had already stated the issues in a January 24,  2012 op-ed column for the Bangkok Post,  a posting to the Asian Animal Protection Network listserv,  and on Thai language media, “alleging corruption,  negligence and an official cover-up of the killing of six wild elephants within three weeks at the Kaeng Krachan and Kui Buri national parks,”  summarized Voranai Vanijaka of the Bangkok Post.

Confrontation between Wiek and the Department of National Parks exploded after DNP director general Damrong Pidet alleged that the six elephants might have been killed to obtain meat for wealthy visitors to Phuket resorts.

“Looking at restaurants catering to rich foreigners visiting Thailand might be looking away from the real problem:  the killing of elephants to take elephant babies from the forests to be trained for tourism,”  Wiek posted to AAPN.  “Please note that all of the recently poached elephants found still had their tusks and genitals when they were found.  These parts were only removed after the DNP found the remains.”

“I would say between 100 to 250 baby elephants are smuggled from the wild each year. That’s about two to three a week,”  Wiek elaborated to Voranai Vanijaka of the Bangkok Post.  “The market is there.”

Summarized Anthea Burton of the Bangkok Post,  “Wiek says poachers anaesthetise the baby elephants and shoot the adult elephants who linger as the babies collapse.  The poachers may not have time to take the tusks,  trunk and sexual organs of the dead elephants. The baby elephants are then sold to middlemen who torture and tame the animals before selling them to tourism operators. Eventually the tourist camps are able to register these elephants as offspring of captive mother elephants,  and no further questions are asked.”

Five DNP officials were arrested in connection with the elephant killings,  but were released on bail.  Two alleged poachers were arrested and displayed to media almost a month after the elephant killings,  on February 17,  2012–the same day,  Wiek said, that “We had more DNP trucks come than ever [to the Wildlife Friends sanctuary] with the intention to take animals.”

The DNP raids on Widlife Friends started on February 13, 2012.  “Both Wildlife Friends and the Save Elephant Foundation Nature Park were hard hit by respectively 60 and 100 armed officials of the DNP and commando police units,”  Wiek said.  The Save Elephant Foundation,  an unrelated organization,  partnered with Wildlife Friends to do animal rescue during monsoon floods that inundated much of the Bangkok region in 2011.  Wiek and Save Elephant Foundation founder Sangduen “Lek” Chailert both happened to be away from their sanctuaries when the raids began,  but Wiek’s wife Jansaeng “Noi” Sangnanork, 34,  was arrested when she was unable to match 103 of the 450 animals at Wildlife Friends with permits to keep them within a three-hour time frame.

“Noi was released on bail at 3:00 a.m.,  after her release was first denied,”  Wiek reported.  “I was not going to let my wife spend a night in jail and sleep in dirt.

“At this moment,”  Wiek added,  “it seems that a small group of local DNP officials are running these raids.  The head office in Bangkok has denied knowing about them.”

Each day the DNP raiders took animals away to an unknown holding location,  often after violent captures that left some animals with bleeding wounds.

“Wiek says the sanctuary has video images of one monkey being sent unconscious and drowning in a concrete pool after being knocked in the air by one official,”  wrote Burton of the Bangkok Post. “Wiek said he was told by the officials that they were acting under the directions of DNP deputy-general Teerapat Prayunsit,”  but Prayunsit denied involvement,  then avoided potential questioners.

Wiek,  46,  founded Wildlife Friends in 2001.  Wiek was previously charged with possession of wildlife without the proper permits in August 2004,  after a similar series of raids followed his denunciations of illicit official involvement in the illegal trade in orangutans.  Wiek was eventually fined $525 and given an eight-month suspended jail sentence for possessing 11 former pet macaques who had been given to the Thai Animal Guardians Association by their keepers, and were relocated to better housing at Wildlife Friends after the Thai forestry department declined to take them.

In 2010,  Wiek was sued by the the Wat Pa Luangta Bua Yannasampanno Forest Monastery “tiger temple” for allegedly helping the British charity Care for the Wild to expose,  CFW described, “evidence of tigers being regularly beaten,  having urine sprayed into their faces,  being forced to sit in direct sunshine for hours, and being kept in poor conditions with inadequate feeding,”  plus “evidence of illegal trade and breeding of tigers at the temple.”

The case against Wiek has not advanced.

“I have been under pressure before,  but this is just incredible,”  Wiek told Burton.

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