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Hunting the Traffickers of Thailand’s Tiger Farms



Dead tiger cubs in jars were found at the tiger temple by Thailand's Department of National Park officials.

Dead tiger cubs in jars were found at the tiger temple by Thailand’s Department of National Park officials.



BANGKOK – When the Thai Wildlife Authorities moved in to shut down the infamous tiger temple at the end of May, they exposed a lot more than just the various irregularities in that one facility.

The horrifying sight of tiger fetuses preserved in bottles, and the shriveled, frozen remains of other cubs, suddenly cast the popular tourist attraction into a more sinister light. Was this evidence of illegal trade in tiger parts?

As it happens, few experts believe the cub carcasses have much value. The bones, skin, teeth, claws and meat of adult tigers are where the money is made. Officials of Thailand’s Department of National Parks, who closed the temple zoo and removed its 147 tigers, did find some evidence of trafficking: amulets containing tiger claws, and a truck attempting to leave the temple with two skins and other small parts. At least three adult tigers had gone missing two years earlier.

Thailand’s Department of National Parks, Deputy Director Adisorn Noochdumrong, suggested continuous involvement in small-scale illegal trafficking by the temple’s managers. But his bigger concern is the criminal networks he believes have been encouraging the trade, from this and other so-called “tiger farms”.

There are at least 30 such farms in Thailand, where intensive breeding takes place. They are not illegal but the lack of records in the temple zoo illustrates the weak regulation of these places and allows the possibility of tiger trafficking.

“I am quite certain there is a network behind what he have discovered at the temple,” said Adisorn. “The temple would not run this alone but tiger trading is hard to verify. The networks are sophisticated and hard to monitor. Influential people are involved.”

Adisorn and his team have tried to trace the origins of the impounded tigers through their DNA. He believes there are seven original parent animals, two Siberian tigers, one Malayan tiger and four that died some years ago, for which he has no information.

All tigers must be registered with the DNP under Thai law and agreements upheld by Cites, an international treaty to protect endangered species from irresponsible trading. All deaths, births and transfers must also be recorded. But this was not happening. Any argument that breeding these particular tigers was to help in their conservation makes no sense, as they are a mix of different subspecies.

International Pressure

Thailand is a hub for the illegal wildlife trade, funneling endangered animals from Africa and other parts of Asia through neighboring Laos, where law enforcement is especially weak, and on to Vietnam and China, where the demand is.

International pressure has pushed the Thai authorities to become more active in intercepting contraband wildlife shipments but little is being done to break up the syndicates running the trade. Very few arrests have been made.

Campaigners monitoring the trade say “farmed” tigers are brought into trafficking all too easily because of the lack of regulation and enforcement. It is difficult to tell whether a carcass belongs to a wild or captive tiger but Thai officials believe at least 30% of those being trafficked come from a captive origin.

Often they will be drowned in special submersion cages to avoid damaging the valuable skin. Traffickers then “float” the wrapped carcasses in the Mekong river from the Thai side and have them picked up by smugglers on the Laotian side. Continue Reading… Click Here

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