x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Unlicensed tigers found in raid on private zoo

Anti-trafficking police confiscate six big cats at new private zoo in Thailand, raising suspicions that it was part of a smuggling ring.

A tiger cub found at a newly-built zoo in Chaiyaphum, Thailand. Thai wildlife police said they had discovered several unregistered tiger and leopard cubs in a raid on the zoo, raising suspicions that it was part of a smuggling ring. AFP PHOTO / HO / FREELAND FOUNDATION
A tiger cub found at a newly-built zoo in Chaiyaphum, Thailand. Thai wildlife police said they had discovered several unregistered tiger and leopard cubs in a raid on the zoo, raising suspicions that it was part of a smuggling ring. AFP PHOTO / HO / FREELAND FOUNDATION

BANGKOK // Several unregistered tiger and leopard cubs were found in a raid on a private zoo, raising suspicions that it was part of a smuggling ring, Thai wildlife police said yesterday.

Six big cats were confiscated in the operation earlier this week - a pair of adult tigers, two tiger cubs and two leopard cubs - with the four young animals lacking official documentation, police said.

The owner of the newly built zoo, in north-eastern Chaiyaphum province, said the tiger cubs were the offspring of the older cats and promised to produce evidence of their legitimacy, Colonel Kiattipong Khawsamang, of the wildlife police, said.

"He planned to open up a private zoo through which he tried to make illegal things legal," Colonel Kiattipong said. "An in-depth investigation suggested he has links with a wildlife trafficking gang."

The anti-trafficking group Freeland said the discovery "may confirm suspicions that the owner and other individuals connected to the zoo and related facilities have been laundering tigers, leopards and other endangered species".

The group, which supported the operation, said the unnamed zoo owner featured in a recent National Geographic Television film about the 15-month investigation into animal trafficking through Thailand.

Freeland said the zoo owner was investigated after being linked to Sudjai Chanthawong, who was arrested in May and is suspected of being a kingpin in what could be the country's largest tiger trafficking ring.

Endangered species such as tigers and leopards are allowed to be owned legally in Thailand as long as they are not sold, but Freeland said the zoo permit system "contains loopholes".

The Freeland director, Steven Galster, said: "As the law stands, police have to constantly and tirelessly find ways to outwit unscrupulous traders. Based on tip-offs we have received, I am confident that if they keep looking, authorities will find more evidence and more bloodstained money."