30 tiger zoos nationwide face checks

30 tiger zoos nationwide face checks

One of the most popular tiger zoos is the Sriracha Tiger Zoo in Chon Buri province. (Photo courtesy Sriracha Tiger Zoo)
One of the most popular tiger zoos is the Sriracha Tiger Zoo in Chon Buri province. (Photo courtesy Sriracha Tiger Zoo)

Kanchanaburi: Police are set to inspect 30 more tiger zoos nationwide as authorities expand their investigation into illicit wildlife trafficking following the raid on the Tiger Temple in the province.

Police on Tuesday also found four more live tigers, as well as a slaughterhouse, during a raid on a house in Kanchanaburi's Muang district, which has suspected links to wildlife trafficking and the Tiger Temple.

Deputy national police chief Chalermkiat Sriworakhan said Tuesday he has told officers to inspect more than 30 locations where tigers and wild animals are kept and to verify if they had sought permission to operate legally.

Pol Gen Chalermkiat said police are waiting for the results of DNA tests on live tigers and dead cubs found at Wat Pa Luang Ta Maha Bua, or the Tiger Temple.

If evidence emerges linking the temple to wildlife trafficking in Laos, he will set up a Royal Thai Police panel to handle the case. The case is being handled by Kanchanaburi's Sai Yok police.

The Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) has found a copy of a document that might link the Tiger Temple to wildlife trafficking. Authorities seized the photocopy of a contract involving an exchange of breeding tigers during last week's relocation of the big cats from the temple.

The agreement was signed by the abbot of the Tiger Temple, Phra Wisutthi Sarathera, known as Luang Ta Chan, and people in Laos, department deputy chief Adisorn Nuchdamrong said. He said the contract indicates the temple may have been involved in the illegal wildlife trade.

Lawyers for the Foundation of Wat Pa Luang Ta Maha Bua said Tuesday the temple abbot will hold a media briefing Thursday to clarify all accusations.

Also on Tuesday, armed with a search warrant, police from the Natural Resources and Environmental Crime Division raided a house in tambon Wang Dong in Kanchanaburi's Muang district.

The search found four tigers -- two males aged 10 and one, and two females, aged 10, and two -- kept in cages in the premises covering more than nine rai. A warehouse for storing tigers' food, a large refrigerator, knives and other equipment believed to be used for relocating tigers were also found in the compound. Two tiger keepers told police the tigers belong to house owner Thawat Khachornchaikul, 68, also known as Sia Tong.

Pol Col Montree Pancharoen, deputy chief of the police division, said officers had found evidence the house is linked to trafficking and has served as a transit point for tiger trafficking as well as a tiger slaughterhouse.

He said authorities believed the house was also linked to the Tiger Temple, adding that DNA samples of the four tigers will be compared to those of the tigers relocated from the temple. A probe will also be launched to find out if the four tigers were linked to the three tigers which went missing from the temple in 2014, Pol Col Montree said.

The Kanchanaburi land reform office erected a sign Tuesday at the temple's entrance, warning against trespass as the office is looking into claims of land misuse, provincial officer Watcharin Wakamanont said. The temple is also accused of encroaching on forest areas of almost 1,000 rai.

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