Breeding ban on tigers in private zoos
officials move on illegal parts trade
Private zoos will be banned from breeding tigers under fresh efforts to end the illegal trading of animals and body parts in the wake of the Tiger Temple scandal.
The move by the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation came after the carcasses of 40 tiger cubs were found in fridges at Wat Pa Luang Ta Maha Bua, better known as the Tiger Temple, in Kanchanaburi, and 30 dead cubs were found preserved in jars.
About 2,000 tiger skins and talismans made mainly from tiger parts were also confiscated.
The discoveries were made when officials raided the temple to relocate 147 live tigers and sparked fears of widespread illegal trading in tiger parts. An investigation was launched into private zoos around the country.
Wildlife activists said they believed many private zoos were involved in the illegal wildlife trade and the sale of organ parts. They said the zoos needed to raise funds to cover the high cost of caring for tigers and other animals as tourist revenue was not enough.
Tuanjai Noochdamrong, director of the department's Wildlife Conservation Office, said there were concerns about the uncontrolled growth of captive tigers in the private zoos and links to illegal wildlife trade.
She said the office is collecting the DNA of about 1,500 tigers in private zoos to determine whether there had been any illegal trading among them.
The first DNA collection covering 500 tigers will be finished by September, and the rest is expected to be completed by the end of next year. While this was continuing, Ms Tuanjai said, the parks and wildlife department would ban all private zoos from breeding tigers.
"We want to control the population of tigers in the zoos at the current number. When we see that the population has lessened, we will then allow breeding in the zoos," she said.
"Controlling tiger births can prevent illegal wildlife trading."
The DNA collection will identify and locate each tiger and make exchanges among the zoos more systematic and verifiable.
It would also prevent "unknown" tigers from being housed in the zoos.
Ms Tuanjai said the department was studying DNA and stripe prints collected from the Tiger Temple to determine whether it had brought in any tigers from outside.
"In the initial results, we found one tiger stripe that has no match with the database earlier collected. We need to confirm it through DNA testing. If it is confirmed that the tiger was taken from elsewhere, it means there has been illegal wildlife trading in the temple," she said.
Edwin Wiek, founder and director of Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand, said he backed the department's move to control the number of tigers in private zoos as this was in line with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) to reduce commercial breeding.
DNA checks would help to obstruct the illegal tiger trade as any carcass or parts found in a market could be traced back to a particular zoo or farm, he said.