Hugh Paxton’s blog attended the press conference at the Foreign Correspondents Club Thailand on Tuesday night. It was packed and I had to perch on the back of a chair.Worse than that I had to wait 30 minutes for my beer. A hideous experience!
But the evening was probably like that for everybody. We all watched hideous experiences. And we heard first hand from the victims. Although, victims doesn’t describe them properly. These people will not go away.
The recent raids on animal welfare/rescue organisations by government officials has touched lots of nerves. The official position was and still is that the WFFT wasn’t doing its paperwork. And was behaving like a well-intentioned zoo. And, this one’s really good, was torturing animals by enclosing elephant enclosures with electric fences.
The fences are in situ to discourage these damaged elephants from escaping into a world that they can not cope with. Because they are blind or crippled or infirm. You don’t fry an elephant on an electric fence. The ele gets a mild zap. It withdraws. It resumes its life in a safe environment.
The use of the term “electric fence” is deliberately sensational. I put up electric fences on top of my walls to protect my tenants in Africa. I’ got zapped a few times. It was just a reminder. Billy, my electric fence repair buddy, gets zapped on a daily basis. He’s no elephant but he knows electric fences.
They may hurt. But they teach you a useful lesson. Mind you, Billy hasn’t learded it yet.
Hope you are still with me! Electric fences are not cruel.
The WFFT elephant enclosures are huge!
Let’s get back to cruel! Yes, let’s!
Bonking an elephant repeatedly on the head with an iron ankh or tying its legs to two trees while a guy holds a sharpened blade beneath the animal’s belly to ensure the cow can’t hide her private parts from a bull ready to mate… I’d rate that as a bit cruel. It happens.
I’ve seen video footage of the raids and while I can’t comment on zoos, what I saw were clowns. Scary clowns in Parks Department uniform, plain clothes or masked in balaclavas and carrying assault rifles, bungling about ineptly trying to capture animals and injuring them in the process. Slamming cage doors on a frightened otter, bashing monkeys with sticks – anybody who sees any of this stuff (and it is graphically recorded) will conclude that the raids were about as well organised as the recent Iranian Bangkok terror cell. The only thing they didn’t manage to do was blow their legs off.
The press conference, as I say., was packed. A lot of journos, one deranged erratically wandering hunchback – God only knows how he got in or which unearthly mag he’s writing for- a lot of wildlife people, human rights people, beautiful women (loads of beautiful women), free speech people, angry people, eloquent speakers, some pretty grizly images of elephant abuse, and a harried bar staff. A large mix of nationalities. A lot of Thais.
Come the questions time one American journo asked the panel whether the WFFT had not invited trouble by being confrontational in a society that dislikes confrontation.
I’ve heard some dumb questions asked in my time at press conferences. This was a real contender for the top ten.
Thais don’t like confrontations, it’s true. But it doesn’t mean they don’t have them. The Red Shirts set fire to central Bangkok, the Yellow Shirts occupied the international airport, war almost broke out with Cambodia over territorial ownership of a border disputed Hindu temple… confrontations do take place.
The plan to raid these animal rescue centres WAS a confrontation. It was politically motivated by senior officials who wanted the WFFT to stop sending them letters urging an end to the illegal practice of killing wild elephants and stealing their babies for a brutalising episode of training before giving tourists rides. Suggestions that corruption and bribery were involved may have caused offence.
But a hundred guys scrambling around injuring animals, searching for non-existent elephants in a forest area that couldn’t conceal a tree shrew? Jaysus! Maybe confrontation isn’t the word. Debacle is probably more the word.
The WTTF didn’t want it that way. And in retrospect, I think the organisers of the raids are probably wishing they’d just answered some of the WTTF’s letters. They are not answering their phones.
Here’s the WFFT account of the affair. I’ll keep you up to date with developments.
Details of DNP raids on WFFT 13th Feb – 17th Feb
At 12.30pm on Monday the 13th of February, Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand, WFFT, was raided by over eighty armed officials from the Department of National Parks (DNP). They received a complaint that we were torturing animals and were hiding a further twenty elephants in our forest, of which fifteen were being kept illegally. Although it is under the jurisdiction of the Livestock Department to follow this up, as opposed to the DNP, we co-operated and allowed them to check the official papers of our six rescued elephants, which are legally housed at our Wildlife Rescue Centre. The papers were scrutinized until 3pm, and upon the realisation that our papers were in fact in order they became visibly agitated, turning their attention onto our other rescued wildlife. We obliged to their request, but made it clear that we had over 400 animals, so this would take some time to prepare the papers. The official informed us that we had 2.5 hours to get everything in order. This was clearly not feasible, and by the time we were expected to be finished, we had had only completed two thirds of the papers. We pleaded with them to give us some more time, but they were not interested. Jansaeng Sangnanork was then formally arrested, and escorted by 30 armed officials to the police station. She was then interrogated by the police and officials, who instructed her to sign all the documents or she would be refused bail. Jansaeng signed all the appropriate papers. DNP then asked the police to refuse her bail, as she had committed a serious offence. At 3:00am, she was released on bail for the amount of 75,000 Baht. ”I was not going to let my wife spend a night in jail and sleep in the dirt of someone else. I was just not,” Mr Wiek said. Jansaeng signed an official paper that she would still be the legal care taker for the confiscated animals, until there was a court order to remove them.
On Tuesday the 14th of February, the Department of National Parks raided the rescue centre once again, to take photographic evidence of the animals they believed to be illegal. At this time, we had already produced additional paper work to prove that more of our animals had appropriate papers. At this time we had only 40 more animals to clear. At 2pm, the officials became very frustrated that they couldn’t capture clear profiles of the animals, as they claimed the enclosures were too large. They then left the rescue centre.
On Wednesday the 15th of February, over 100 armed officials of the Department of National Parks returned to the rescue centre with the intention of confiscating 103 of the rescued animals. At this time, the founder, Edwin Wiek, was in Malaysia. They were ignorant to the fact that we had already produced the papers for many of these animals. We informed the officials that some of the animals on the list were not protected species and it was illegal for them to target these animals. The officials proceeded to begin capturing the animals. The manner in which they did this was unprofessional. They used unnecessary brutal force and many animals sustained serious injuries. There was no official medical team present and when we offered assistance from our veterinary staff we were refused access to the injured animals. Staff and volunteers were understandably shocked and disturbed witnessing these events. Emotions and intensity were at the highest level. “It has been surreal. All of the volunteers, we are just speechless,” said one of our volunteers. Eight animals were confiscated: two Pig-Tailed Macaques, two Long-Tailed Macaques, two Common Palm Civets, one Masked Palm Civet, and one Binturong.
On Thursday the 16th of February, the Department of National Parks invaded the rescue centre for the fourth day. Their intension was to confiscate forty more animals, including some elderly Asiatic Black Bears. This was incredibly frustrating for us as we had all of the legitimate paperwork for these animals. At this time an official of the CITES office in Bangkok arrived to translate the proceedings into English for the volunteers. The volunteers made it very clear that it was unjustifiable to be taking these animals, especially given that evidence was available to clear these animals. Further discussions took place and police officers made their opinions clear, expressing that no elderly or unwell animal should be put under unnecessary stress. The DNP Government reluctantly agreed, which we saw as a small victory. Things got considerably out of hand throughout the day and the incompetence of the DNP was more evident than ever. ”You know, these guys are meant to be National Park officials but some of them are so inexperienced, they don’t even know how to capture an animal correctly,” Mr Wiek said. A Pig-Tailed Macaque, named Tamairuak, was traumatised so badly that he fell five metres into a concrete water trough and was knocked unconscious. The DNP only pulled him from the water after concerned staff and volunteers screamed in distress. We demanded that one of their five vets give him a medical examination as he may have aspirated on the water, which could lead to aspiration pneumonia. They refused to listen to his chest with a stethoscope and he was literally kicked into a cage with no monitoring. Five Macaques were confiscated on this day: four Pig-Tailed Macaque, and one Long Tailed Macaque. After the confiscation of Spartacus, a Long-Tailed Macaque, WFFT Veterinary Nurse said, “I spent three months giving him medical treatment and rehabilitating him in our wildlife centre’s hospital. On the 16th of February, he was confiscated by the Department of National Parks. It took three men to seize him in a net as he put up a ten minute struggle. You could see the fear, confusion and anxiety in his eyes. It broke my heart to see him leave. What will happen to him now is unsure. I’ve witnessed these government facilities first hand and I dread to think what will become of him. They are all overcapacity and the animals are kept in horrendous conditions. Ironically, many of our animals have been rescued from these horrific government centres.”
On Friday the 17th of February, the DNP descended upon the rescue centre with over 100 armed officials. They informed us that they would be confiscating all of the 103 animals that they initially intended to take. This completely contradicted the agreement from yesterday where they alleged to be taking only forty. We once again offered the proof that we had more papers but they refused to acknowledge these facts. At this time there was a heated debate, which was captured on video, and Edwin Wiek addressed everyone in both Thai and English language. He made it clear that he would file charges against all those involved in illegally confiscating our wildlife. The atmosphere was intense and the DNP started to prepare to confiscate another Macaque. Before doing this, they cordoned off the area to restrict staff and volunteers from photographing the proceedings. Whilst they were assembling the nets, a Thai citizen walked in and demanded that they stop. ”If you take away the animals you are going to have to arrest me first,” stated Khun Tom Dundee, a Thai celebrity singer, “I am not going anywhere. This is my home country. I will not yield to you. This is a sanctuary of our animals. This is the best thing that we have for the animals of our country. As we know if a wild animal is disabled and cannot be released to the wild what else happens to them? They are eaten! I believe that there is a lot of profit to be made from these animals if they are sold to be eaten. I will not back up!” He went on to say “I will not back up from any government agency. I will fight for these animals! I want to hear directly from the Secretary of the DNP. I have worked with them before and they need to speak with me. Our country needs to have rules and regulations and everyone needs to be equal under the law. We need to protect good people. The truth will come out. We don’t want bad people to take advantage of us. This sanctuary is the best we have. If we destroy this place there will be nothing left in Thailand to show people of our wildlife. We should be ashamed. Volunteers from different countries, people of different races come here. They pour money to this sanctuary. These are good people, they help us, they believe in us, they are so kind and gentle to our country, our people and our animals. Why are we letting them down like this?” He completely halted the proceedings and all parties moved to the police station. Since that day, we have not seen any officials inside the rescue centre. Over the weekend we had many people from Bangkok, and locally, arriving to show their support and to encourage us to keep fighting for the animals. One supporter is quoted saying, “I am depressed to learn the D.N.P. Officials in Thailand are cruelly removing previously rescued and rehabilitated animals from Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand by kicking them unconscious, using sticks and leaving them bleeding and injured, many of who have been recently rescued from horrendous conditions and who are already recovering from trauma. This is blatant corruption and bullying to silence the organisations’ leaders from being outspoken against the illegal wildlife trade and recent findings of slaughtered elephants in nearby national parks, for which corruption amongst Thai authorities is suspected.”
Pic: Some shell shocked volunteers at WFFT having an educational Gap Year moment