Lion ownership sparks outrage

Lion ownership sparks outrage

Wildlife experts urge the government to ban private ownership of the dangerous animal after several sightings in public,

Authorities from the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation find a nine-month-old lion club at a cafe in soi Sukhumvit 4, Klong Toey on Jan 29. The DNP
Authorities from the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation find a nine-month-old lion club at a cafe in soi Sukhumvit 4, Klong Toey on Jan 29. The DNP

Private possession of wild animals has recently become an issue, amid public outrage and criticism over safety concerns. The issue came to light following several sightings of privately-owned lions in public places over the past several weeks.


In January, a lion cub was spotted riding in the back of a luxury convertible in Pattaya. In the same period, another lion cub was seen roaming a street in a residential area in Chon Buri's Bang Lamung district. Further investigation of the second incident found two 10-month-old lion cubs living in a house.

A few days later, two more cubs, aged nine months and two months, were reported living in poor conditions in a cafe on Sukhumvit Soi 4.

And on Feb 14, another lion cub was seized from a Phuket hotel room.

Authorities quickly moved to confiscate the animals and press charges against the owners. The charges range from illegally possessing wild animals to keeping protected wild animals without permission and transporting wild animals without proper documents.

There are 67 controlled wild animals on the list of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation under the Preserved and Protected Wildlife Law.

Lions are categorised as one of 10 dangerous, controlled animals along with the Bornean orangutan, green anaconda, chimpanzee, Sumatran orangutan, jaguar, cheetah, gorilla, mountain gorilla and dwarf chimpanzee. Only licensed farms are allowed to trade buy and sell these animals.

According to the law, private individuals and zoos may import or possess dangerous animals if they comply with rules which regulate the trade of controlled and/or protected wildlife.

However, all holders of controlled animals must notify the authorities and obtain permission.

The permits are issued after officials ensure the holders are able to provide the animals good living conditions in line with animal welfare practices and ensure the safety of the public.


Prasert Sornsathapornkul, director of the Wild Fauna and Flora Protection Division, said many owners of wild animals don't have sufficient understanding of the law.

Although the law allows individuals to possess dangerous animals, they need to follow the rules. The animal's habitat must be safe and not pose any risk or disturbance to the community.

"Lions are dangerous animals that shouldn't be kept at home. However, we cannot prevent individuals who follow the law from keeping such animals," he said.

Observers have noted that his response reflects the vague stance of the department on individual possession of dangerous animals, with some suggesting the department is trying to work out whether dangerous animals held by private individuals are properly registered.

Based on the department's records, 223 lions are owned by 37 individuals nationwide. The screening procedure is expected to be completed by March, which might give a clearer idea of how to deal with the issue.

He said possession of lions has become a trend among the rich due to the high prices fetched by the animals. They can go for over 100,000 baht.

However, many owners ended up losing interest in the animals, with some deciding to sell them to other individuals, or even zoos, he added.

Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand (WFFT) founder Edwin Wiek said the department should make the right decision by not supporting individual possession of lions.

"The situation might get worse in the next few years; we might see lion owners leaving the animals with the department when they realise they no longer have the capacity to take care of them," he said. "In the end, it is a waste of taxpayers' money."

He suggested the department ban individual possession of dangerous and controlled animals, saying increasing the number of lions in private captivity is not the right path to support the animal's survival.

Mr Wiek also raised concerns that possession of individual lions might lead to wildlife crimes, such as the sale of its skin, sex organs and teeth.

Mr Wiek said his team recently found a pig farm in Chachoengsao province kept more than 10 lions.

They suspected the cubs might be awaiting transport elsewhere, likely Laos, to be further traded.

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