By Sandi Thompson and Oliver Starr
For the past week, Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand (WFFT), one of the most widely respected wildlife protection, conservation and rehabilitation organizations in Thailand, has been harassed, terrorized and raided by Thailand’s own Department of National Parks (DNP) officials.
In the course of their actions, these officials, who are supposed to protect and care for Thailand’s national parks and indigenous wildlife, have:
• Threatened, belittled and terrorized the volunteers at WFFT
• Brutally captured – and in a number of instances injured – 103 of the animals that had lived safely and peacefully at the WFFT facilities for years including: macaques, gibbons, bears, hornbills, civets, an otter, and a binturong
• Placed these animals in rusty cages, most of them far too small for the animals they imprisoned
• Took the animals to facilities that are unsafe, inadequate and not monitored by qualified animal caretakers
• Terrified and tortured animals that have never been handled by humans and which were slated to be released back to the wild in the coming weeks
The last time DNP officials confiscated wildlife from one of Thailand’s wildlife rescue/sanctuaries, those animals were never seen again.
On January 24, WFFT founder Edwin Wiek wrote an article speaking out against the alleged involvement of various Thai officials and businessmen in elephant poaching in Thailand, a practice that results in orphaned young elephants being sold to tourism facilities that offer elephant rides.
Between the 13th and 24th of February, no less than 70 armed DNP officers, many dressed in military fatigues with their faces obscured by balaclavas and carrying heavy weaponry, forced their way onto WFFT properties and demanded to see ownership documents for the 400 animals housed at WFFT facilities.
At one point, DNP personnel gave staff 2 1/2 hours to produce the required documentation for all 400 animals under the care of WFFT. “This,” protests Mr. Wiek, “is completely unreasonable. The documentation for the animals is kept in computers and their request that they receive complete documentation for every animal would have required that each set of documents was located and produced within 22 seconds!”
Eventually, WFFT was able to provide all the documentation. However, this has not resulted in the return of the animals that were initially taken. In fact, in subsequent raids the DNP ended up taking many more animals. Overall, 103 animals under the care of WFFT were seized, even after all the requested legal papers had been presented to and then ignored by the chief DNP official.
For now it appears that the raids have ended. However, the pain and suffering of both the animals that have been seized as well as WFFT staff have only just begun.
So what can you do to help?
According to a number of people from Thailand with whom we’ve spoken, the best chance for WFFT to get their animals returned lies with the Thai Royal Family, especially Her Royal Highness Princess Sirindhorn.
Care2 has already submitted a petition with more than 36,000 signatures to her attention but individual emails directed to her personal affairs adjunct, Miss Orawan Yamply, could also have a real impact. If you wish to write to the Princess, here’s what you need to do:
First, be polite. She is royalty and expects to be treated very respectfully. You should address your emails to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please use the following address and salutation when writing to the Princess:
H.R.H. Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn’s Personal Affairs Division
Chaipattana Building, Chitralada Villa, Rajvithee Road, Dusit District,
Bangkok 10303, THAILAND
Telephone (Mon-Fri 08.30-16.30 hrs.) : (+66) (0) 2 280 3581 – 9 Ext. 671, 677
Time is of the essence. WFFT does not know where their animals are, and they are very concerned that they are to be killed or sold to the illegal wildlife trade.
This is about more than just the animals, or the even the terrorized staff members at WFFT. Mr. Wiek tried to call attention to poaching activities that are harming wildlife in Thailand, and someone did not like it. By taking action and making our voices heard, we might be able to save countless animals from torture and death at the hands of people motived by profit, and not animal welfare.