Songkhla zookeeper in spotlight over missing rare animals

Songkhla zookeeper in spotlight over missing rare animals

One of the two rare albino barking deer that went missing from Songkhla Zoo last February.
One of the two rare albino barking deer that went missing from Songkhla Zoo last February.

The Zoological Park Organisation of Thailand (ZPOT) is pursuing action against a zookeeper over exotic animals which have gone missing from Songkhla Zoo.

The news was revealed on Friday by a fact-finding committee appointed by the environment minister to explain the disappearance of two rare albino barking deer.

The case made headlines in October, when Suriya Saengpong, the director-general of ZPOT, was shot dead by a zoo veterinarian as he went to follow up on the case of the missing deer at Songkhla Zoo.

It was reported they had an argument, after which the vet sprayed bullets at Siriya and then took his own life, apparently because he was unhappy with the investigation.

The killing shed light on possible shenanigans at the zoo, where scores of exotic animals, including valuable exotic birds, two albino barking deer and a rhino horn have disappeared.

Two young albino barking deer vanished -- Khun Phum and Khun Phak, both descendants of barking deer that were gifted to the zoo by Her Majesty Queen Sirikit The Queen Mother.

The investigation found the missing animals might have been removed and sold.

The inquiry focused on one out of three zookeepers tasked with taking care of the missing animals.

"He is the chief suspect after checks were made on his background," said Jade Donavanik, a member of the fact-finding committee.

"The police will try to find out if anyone else was involved in smuggling the animals out."

Chalermchai Papata, head of the fact-finding committee, said yesterday that there was no trace of Khun Phum and it might have been stolen from the zoo.

However, DNA testing showed the other missing animal, Khun Phak, was eaten by a python because bones and teeth were found in a dead python and matched Khun Phak's DNA.

Apart from the suspected zookeeper, the former director of Songkhla Zoo is also under investigation, said Mr Jade, also a member of ZPOT's board. He has since resigned from his post.

The inquiry found the former zoo director did not do enough to track down the two missing albino barking deer after they went missing last February. It took another eight months for the zoo to lodge a complaint with police.

Mr Chalermchai said his committee had also asked ZPOT to conduct an inventory of zoo animals around the country, to prevent the trafficking of rare animals.

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