Zoo flaws need taming

Zoo flaws need taming

It has been two weeks since the fatal shooting of Suriya Saengpong, head of the Zoological Park Organization of Thailand (ZPOT), while on an inspection trip to Songkhla Zoo. The gunman, who was the victim's subordinate, committed suicide after the killing.

In the lead-up to the killing, four officials had been transferred pending a probe into two missing albino deer. On Oct 3, one of the four turned up at the zoo and opened fire on the ZPOT director.

Songkhla Zoo is never short of scandals. There have been several past cases of animals going missing. A few macaws -- pricey exotic birds -- among other animals have been reported missing, while the horns were reportedly cut from the carcass of a dead rhino in another case.

It's the disappearance of two rare albino deer -- gifts bestowed by HM Queen Sirikit the Queen Mother, that prompted the latest investigation into the zoo.

Songkhla Zoo officials could not give much of an explanation, only saying one of them was eaten by a python.

The subsequent shooting revealed that the gunman and the victim had a toxic working relationship.

The former had filed complaints against his superior for alleged corruption and malfeasance. The ZPOT later cleared Suriya of all allegations, calling the matter a misunderstanding.

Environment Minister Varawut Silpa-archa earlier this month set up a fact-finding committee to look into problems at the zoo, particularly concerns that some zoo employees might have been connected to the illicit wildlife trade. However, this move resulted in the murder-suicide.

Now, the challenge goes beyond finding out what happened to the disappeared albino barking deer. There is now an uphill task to improve transparency in how the ZPOT is managed. Another challenge is how to improve the organisation's records on animals not only in public zoos, but those in private zoos and state and private breeding centres.

The case of the missing animals at Songkhla Zoo is just the tip of a wildlife iceberg. There have been reports of animals going missing from the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation's (DNP) breeding facilities and of course, from other state zoos.

What should be done, first and foremost, is to improve the database on animals vulnerable to the illicit wildlife trade in both state and private zoos and breeding facilities across the country. Most of these animals have a high value and can fetch a hefty profit on the black market.

Logging animals in captivity in Thailand has been neglected, which has made it almost impossible to keep track of animals that are stolen.

This has also made it easier for those involved in illicit wildlife trading.

Little, if any, effort is made by investigators to track animals by way of checking their DNA or by microchip, partly because this information or technology does not exist or because of a lack of cooperation among agencies.

What the government can do right away is inject more money into an animal identification system and upgrade and link data that is necessary for an investigation.

The authorities should be aware that the fatal shooting of the zoo official in Songkhla was no ordinary crime. It exposed serious flaws in how zoos are run. Those in charge need to learn from these scandals to ensure they never happen again.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

Email : ploenpotea@bangkokpost.co.th

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