The controversial Tiger Temple in Kanchanaburi has spurred the Crime Suppression Division (CSD) into expanding its inspection of private zoos suspected to be part of a criminal gang smuggling tiger meat and carcasses to China.
Several zoos raising Bengal tigers were found to be involved in the illegal tiger tradering, said CSD deputy chief Montri Paencharoen who has been assigned by the Central Investigation Bureau to lead the probe.
“Chinese people believe tiger meat is a source of prowess. That’s why tiger ment is popular in China and why a number of This with licences to operate a zoo are [unlawfully] supplying the tiger ment to the Chinese market,” Pol Col Montri said.
“We’ve already secured information about this [tiger meat smuggling] gang.”
The privately-run zoos normally avoid reporting the actual number of tigers born in captivity so they can sell the cubs illegally, he said.
Over a period of two years, each female tiger can give birth to about a dozen cubs,each worth 50,000 bath on the black market, Pol Col Montri said.
A healthy two-year-old tiger normally weighs 200kg and its meat can fetch up to 5,000 bath/kg, he said.
Tiger bones are sold at 50,000 bath/kg as a key ingredient in some Chinese traditional medicine, while a full-body tiger skin can change hands for 100,000 bath apiece, he said. Tiger fangs also have value as they can made into talismans.
Earlier last month, a team of wildlife and forest protection officials found at the socalled Tiger Temple, or Wat Pa Luang Ta Maha Bua in Kanchanaburi province, 30 preserved Bengal tiger cubs, two pieces of tiger skin and several items made from tiger and other wildlife species.
The items were removed from the living quarters the temple abbot shortly before the authorities found them along with 147 live tigers kept there. The National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department (NPWPCD) later removed the tigers fron the temple.
Five suspects were consequently detained and charged with violatting the Wildlife Protection and Conservation Act. They were Netr Kulruangklai, 42, and Kongkiat Chanpheng, 37, both laymen, as well as monks identified as Phra Lamom Wanthiya, Phra Sanongchai Saengnak and Phra Chakkris Sanahakittiko.
On Jun 7, Pol Col Montri led a team of NPWPCD offcials, soldiers, administrative officials and forensic scientists in searching a house in Muang district of Kanchaburi where they found six metal cages and four Bengal tigers.
The housekeeper told the authorities that Thawatchai Kachonchaikul,68,alias Sia Tong, owned the house.
The CSD found the house had been used for the illegal of various wildlife species, especially Bengal tigers, said Pol Col Montri, adding the house was a transit point in the smuggling operation where some wildlife animals were also slaughtered.
The CSD was also testing the DNA of tigers kept at the house and at Wat Pa Luang TaMaha Bua to see if the cases are connected.
Pol Col Montri, meanwhile, led an inspection of a zoo in Ubon Ratchathani’s Trakan Phuetphon district owned by a former politician.
Although the CSD had information the zoo had illegally kept and bred tigers, no legal action has been pressed.
Pol Col Montri said the CSD was gathering evidence from several other privatelyowned zoos in Chiang Mai, Phuket, Chon Buri, Nakhon Pathom and Samut Prakan, some of which are popular with toueists.
He said it easy to obtain a licence to open a zoo. He added the CSD had checked with the NPWPCD how many new privately-owned zoos have secured licences.
However, it is ironic the department could not say exactly how many zoos it had approved, said Pol Col Montri.
The CSD also suspected some local officials may be involved in the tiger trade network as they appeared to have knowledge of privately-run zoos illegally supplying tigers to the smuggling network.
“In many of the zoo inspections we led, local authoritied arrived there before we did. And the zoo operators claim the officials had already seized their key documents,” Pol Col Montri said
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