The tiger temple management sued the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) a few months ago and a closed door meeting in court between all parties was held on the court's orders on March 23, 2016.
The Tiger Temple has sued the DNP for a total of 147 million baht (US$ 4.2 million) as they claim they had to care for all tigers over the past 10 years and will have lost this money if they have to give up the tigers to authorities. The DNP has ordered the temple to give up the tigers after several cases of illegal wildlife trafficking were found to have taken place.
The tiger temple allegedly bought protected hornbills, jackals and bears from traffickers, while at the same time they sold tigers to (local and foreign) wildlife traders and exchanged protected tigers with lions from a Laos wildlife farm. This is not only against Thai law, but also in breach of the international CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) convention. Besides the trade accusations, the temple was also accused of exploiting and torturing tigers for personal and financial gain.
After the closed meeting took place a representative of the tiger temple, Mr Vichai Kulkaew, said the meeting was successful and an agreement with both parties and the court was reached.
• The temple can no longer breed any tigers.
• The temple can no longer charge for entrance.
• The temple can no longer show tigers or take them for walks.
In exchange for the above agreement, the DNP was asked to keep at least 70 tigers at the temple for "conservation," while the temple will apply for a zoo license to officially take over the remaining tigers from authorities. Initially all commercial exploitation by the temple needs to be stopped by April 19, 2016. If the temple wants to continue as a zoo it will need to apply for a permit outside the temple area, and it will need to pay the authorities for all tigers they wish to keep, according to the estimated value of each tiger.
The court has given both parties 15 days to discuss the issue with their relative department and group, or appeal this agreement and further go to court.
The Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand (WFFT) is skeptical about the above agreement, but cannot comment on court decisions under Thai law. We do however feel that the tiger temple cannot be trusted as they have until now broken each and every promise to stop the exploitation and trade of protected and endangered wildlife.
Most of the animals we rescue are either from accidents, or the illegal (pet) trade. Lately we have had many new arrivals as the trade is getting worse than before. Although we have seen an increase in enforcement after the military took over, we now note that things are getting back to "normal" again, where authorities do not see enforcement of wildlife laws as a priority.
The orangutan from Phuket called "Milo" was found three days after she disappeared, as she was left in a metal cage in the jungle of northern Phuket. She is now at a government wildlife breeding facility awaiting action from the police.
As someone who apparently opposes the use of elephants as tourist attractions, including high-profile sporting events and 'camps,' what do you suggest instead for these animals, and others like monkeys and gibbons, especially in the face of Thailand's dwindling forests and natural habitat?
First of all I oppose the exploitation of wildlife in tourism, especially in the case of illegally captured wildlife. The problem of exploitation of captive elephants is somehow a bit different in a country like Thailand as these elephants are considered "livestock.” My main concern here is the way they are trained and the origin of many young elephants we see on the streets and in tourist camps. Many are still taken from the wild, and this has to stop.
I have been invited to join a committee to draft new wildlife protection laws and we have just sent this new "Wildlife Conservation Act" to the minister. I believe that if this law is passed as we have jointly drafted it, it will make a positive change in the near future.
Zoos are a big part of the problem. Wildlife is bred without plans and sold on the market even though this is illegal. Zoos are fighting against better legislation and want to be free to trade as they see fit. Without proper monitoring the trade is a "grey" market, where no one can differentiate between the legal and illegal stocks of wild animals in their possession.
We hear that WFFT has enlarged its premises in Hua Hin. How big is it now, how many animals are now in its keeping, and how many staff do you have?
It covers 44 hectares of land, and we have 56 staff members. We also recently opened up in Laos with 40 hectares and 70 staff. In Thailand we care for almost 500 wild animals.
Can visitors to the foundation stay overnight?
For people who wish to experience a night with the elephants we have built an eco-lodge bordering the "wild elephant enclosures," From these (only 5) rooms one can enjoy the view of rescued old elephants strolling around their open forest and fields, with natural ponds. A bit of a safari in Thailand. People can also join the daytrip and learn more about our wildlife hospital and the wildlife rescue center. At 4,000 baht a night it is not cheap, but an exclusive experience.
Time! I can hardly find the time to answer all concerns and complaints that come in daily. There's too little time to investigate wildlife trade and too little time to enjoy watching the animals being rescued or released back to the wild. In the past we spent a lot of time and energy fighting back at the government, but for now we are on good terms.
Who are WFFT's major sponsors?
We have volunteers that fund projects, and corporate sponsors that support us. Our biggest sponsors are in Australia, the USA and Thailand.