PM orders probe into zoo scandal

PM orders probe into zoo scandal

Fatal shooting tied to deer disappearance

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on Monday ordered the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment to probe the disappearance of rare albino barking deer at Songkhla Zoo and leave no stone unturned after the incident sparked concerns about the illegal wildlife trade.

He said that as smuggling and trading of wild animals remains a threat, the ministry must investigate the deer case thoroughly and make sure the incident is not repeated.

Songkhla Zoo became the focus of public attention after Suriya Saengpong, director of the Zoological Park Organization of Thailand (ZPOT), was shot dead by Phuwadol Suwanna, a senior veterinarian and head of the zoo's conservation, research and animal health division, while inspecting the zoo as part of the investigation into the missing barking deer.

The shooting came as Phuwadol, along with three other officials at the zoo, was transferred pending the investigation into the deer case. Phuwadol killed himself in his living quarters inside the zoo compound shortly after.

"I've asked [the ministry] to find out what happened to the animals. As for the shootings, I feel sorry. One was there to investigate and had yet to do anything. The other was a vet who may have misunderstood the intention of the transfer order," he said.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Varawut Silpa-archa said on Monday the investigation into the zoo's operations and the deer case would be carried out by Chaowalit Chukachorn, chairman of the ZPOT board.

Mr Varawut defended his handling of the case, saying his role was supervisory only and he could not intervene in the matter which was under the supervision of the ZPOT board.

Meanwhile, the Natural Resources and Environmental Crime Division (NRECD) said it is gathering information about zoo operations and wildlife smuggling to draw up a plan against the exploitation of zoos by traders.

However, division chief Pol Maj Gen Pithak Uthaitham said his office would wait for the outcome of the ZPOT investigation which was expected to be announced today before deciding what actions to be taken.

In a media interview on Sunday, Mr Chaowalit said two rare deer at Songkhla Zoo went missing this year. The first case, which was reported in February, was being investigated and the second case, which emerged last month, concluded the animal was eaten by a python.

The animal's pedigree traces back to a deer that a local villager presented to Her Majesty Queen Sirikit the Queen Mother as a gift.

Her Majesty later gave the deer to Dusit Zoo where it reproduced and some of the offspring were given to other zoos, including Songkhla Zoo.

A source close to the ZPOT investigation said the most likely hypothesis about the deer's disappearance is that it was stolen from the zoo.

Pol Maj Gen Damras Wiriyakul, deputy chief of Police Provincial 9, said Songkhla Zoo had not filed a complaint about the animal's disappearance but investigators would look into the matter as it could be linked to Suriya's shooting.

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