From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 2012: (Actually published on November 1, 2012.)
BANGKOK–Thailand Department of National Parks, Wildlife & Plant Conservation chief Damrong Phidet retired on September 31, 2012 after deploying 3,000 staff on July 28 to demolish nine resorts that were allegedly illegally built within Thab Lan National Park in Nakhon Ratchasimi; raiding 10 Phuket resorts on August 15 for allegedly encroaching on Sirinath National Park; raising the entrance fees by 150% at 29 of the 148 Thai national parks on August 23; revisiting the Phuket resorts, plus two more, on Sept-ember 25; and transferring several national park chiefs only weeks after their appointment. Amid all that, Damrong Phidet and five of his senior officials were on August 22, 2012 called to face a Parliamentary Committee on Law & Human Rights hearing in Bangkok, “to answer to allegations and questions on abuse of power, selective enforcement, slander and harassment filed by several groups, people and companies, one of which was the Wildlife Friends Foundation of Thailand,” posted Wildlife Friends founder Edwin Wiek to the WFFT web site. Wiek, his wife Jansaeng “Noi” Sangnanork, veterinarian Chuthamas Moh Teui, and Roger Lohanan of the Thai Animal Guardians testified against Damrong Phidet. Wiek, who helped to lead disaster relief operations after the 2005 Indian Ocean tsunami and the 2011 Bangkok flooding, presented details of three recent cases in which wildlife disappeared from allegedly unlicensed zoos in Sraburi province, Huahin city, and on Phuket, after Wildlife Friends presented evidence of the violations to Damrong Phidet’s administration. In each case Department of National Parks investigators claimed to have found no animals, but after Wildlife Friends followed up the Phuket case, officials said 11 missing orangutans were “found along the highway” between Phuket and Phang-nga. Wiek first clashed with Damrong Phidet after 115 orangutans were confiscated from the Safari World zoo in Bangkok in 2003, but were not actually removed from the site. DNA testing found in 2004 that at least 72 of the orangutans had been smuggled from Indonesia. Fifteen of the orangutans died in custody. Only 41 were repatriated to Indonesia in 2006. Most of the rest vanished. Twenty-two turned up performing kickboxing exhibitions in Cambodia. Five were loaned to the Chiang Mai Night Safari Zoo, a scandal-plagued facility politely described by Associated Press as “a project initiated by [former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra in his home town,” several years before a military coup deposed him for alleged corruption. “Night Safari has veterinarians and everything to take care of them, so we lent them temporarily,” Damrong Phidet said. Damrong Phidet meanwhile helped to send eight Thai elephants to the Taronga and Melbourne zoos in Australia, in trade for 21 Australian animals, including kangaroos and koalas, for exhibit at the Chiang Mai Night Safari Zoo. Friends of the Asian Elephant founder Soraida Salwala alleged that the elephants were illegally captured from the wild, but Damrong Phidet claimed they were born in “elephant shelters.” Wiek in a January 2012 op-ed column for the Bangkok Post accused Damrong Phidet’s administration of trying to cover up the killing of six wild elephants at the Kaeng Krachan and Kui Buri national parks. Damrong Phidet alleged that the six elephants might have been killed to obtain meat for wealthy visitors to Phuket resorts. This, said Wiek, “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 responded. Elephant Nature Park founder Sang-duan Lek Chailert supported Wiek’s charges. Alleging wildlife permit violations, Damrong Phidet within days ordered eight separate raids on Wildlife Friends, seizing 103 animals, and seized more animals in four raids on the Elephant Nature Park. Then, under media scrutiny, Damrong Phidet made a show of cracking down on elephant trafficking. The raids on Wildlife Friends came just after the organization started procedures to obtain a permit from the Thai Livestock Department to operate an animal hospital. Wildlife Friends passed the inspection to get the permit on March 22, 2012, and received the permit on April 30, the Wildlife Friends web site said, but on March 23, 2012, “an official of the Department of Livestock entered the wildlife hospital without permission and photographed the facility, then pressed charges against Jansaeng Sangnanork and the foundation for illegally running an animal hospital.” The official allegedly told Wiek that this was on orders of Damrong Phidet. “The provincial prosecutor has told us not to worry about the case in court,” Wildlife Friends posted on October 8, 2012, “but he is under a lot of pressure to proceed. Noi has been summoned to turn herself in on October 26 to be jailed in Petchaburi, but will be allowed to file for bail the same day. Edwin will revoke his bail to make it possible for Noi to be bailed out instead.” Added Wildlife Friends on October 25, “All other issues have now finally been dropped,” but as well as struggling to fund their defense and their rescue work, Wiek and Jansaeng Sangnanork hoped to help Chuthamas Moh Teui, who was arrested on October 21, 2012 “for helping and treating the monkeys of Lopburi,” the posting concluded.