Cages are not for tigers
The Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Protection (DNP) deserves lavish praise for its actions taken against the illegal tiger trade. On Nov 30, DNP officials impounded five tiger cubs from Suan Sua Mukda in Mukdahan. The young tigers are believed to have been smuggled in as DNA tests showed that they are not related to any in captivity.
The DNP has been monitoring this tiger facility for the past couple ofyears after it conducted a raid in January 2018. The agency suspected that some of the more than 20 tigers in this zoo were not locally bred. It is preparing to press charges against the zoo owner, who lied about the origins of the five tiger cubs and violated the Wildlife Protection Act, bringing to the fore the issue of tigers being raised in captivity in Thailand.
The sinister side of tiger zoos was unveiled in 2016 when DNP officials raided the famous Tiger Temple in Kanchanaburi province where the temple's abbot solicited donations -- for two abandoned tigers, and their offspring -- from kind-hearted visitors.
What officials found stunned the whole world. There were about 147 tigers kept in the temple, most of them in poor health due to being inbred. The most gory findings were 40 frozen dead tiger cubs, 20 cubs in formaldehyde solution, two adult tiger pelts, 1,500 tiger skin amulets, and other amulets made of tiger teeth, bones and other parts of tiger carcasses kept in the temple's refrigerators. Apparently, the Tiger Temple doubled as a private zoo for tourists and a breeding facility for the black market.
While the country's efforts in wild tiger conservation gain recognition, Thailand is also listed as a major hub for the illicit tiger trade in Southeast Asia. The law classifies tigers as protected wildlife, but the state permits zoo operators to import tigers or breed them in captivity. This policy opens the doors for smugglers to supply wild tigers to zoos in Thailand.
Tigers that end up in cages of private zoos will spend 20 years living in captivity. Some might be sent to Vietnam or China -- the largest markets for tiger products where every piece of a tiger is sought after as delicacies, ingredients for traditional medicines or even aphrodisiacs.
The crackdown at the Mukdahan tiger facility is a good starting point for improving the welfare of tigers in captivity, ending the supply chain of the black market. Now that the department has conducted DNA tests on over 1,500 tigers in captivity in 32 commercial and private zoos across the nation to establish a database of tigers in captivity, it is highly likely some will have the same problem with the Mukdahan-based park. It is about time that the government considers ending the breeding of tigers in captivity.
Indeed, CITES in 2016 urged Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and China to close tiger breeding facilities after substantiated records showed 30% of seized tiger products came from animals kept in captivity in those countries.
Thailand could be the trailblazer in all this. Indeed, the country has done remarkable work in increasing the numbers of wild tigers living in forests from 50 to 180, while the number of such tigers in each neighbouring country is less than 10. After making strides in saving wild tigers, the country now needs to protect those in captivity too.
The DNP can start with taking DNA samples and records of tigers in private zoos, closing any facilities involved in smuggling and punishing all wrongdoers. It could also introduce a tiger population control plan, including having tigers in captivity neutered. After all, a cage is not a place for a tiger.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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