WWF commends closure of Thai zoo embroiled in illegal tiger trade allegations

Posted on 10 March 2021

Bangkok, Thailand - WWF Thailand commends the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) on their special law enforcement operation which will result in the closure of the Mukda Tiger Zoo and Farm and a permanent suspension of the zoo's operating permit.
WWF Thailand’s CEO, Pimpavadee Phaholyothin, applauded the DNP’s proactive, continuous efforts, including intensive investigation and enforcement actions, noting their contribution to the conservation of tigers, a species that has long been threatened by poaching and trade. 

“Tigers in the wild are threatened not only by habitat destruction and deforestation but also by the domestic and international illegal wildlife trade that drives hunting of tigers for their parts and products. Declining wild tiger populations and improved enforcement around protected areas have made sourcing tigers from the wild more difficult in Thailand, resulting in facilities breeding tigers to feed the illegal trade in tigers and their parts and products.”

During an initial investigation of the zoo in November 2020, the DNP impounded five tigers and, having conducted DNA tests, found that three cubs were genetically unrelated to any local captive tigers. Over the next 90 days, during which time the zoo was forced to suspend operations, the DNP conducted a secondary investigation and round of DNA tests of the tigers being held in the facility which found that additional claims filed by the zoo about the parentage and genetic relation of some tigers were falsified. 

These findings, in addition to being in offence of criminal codes about providing false information to the government, provide probable cause that the tigers in the facility had been smuggled from abroad or laundered from the wild, indicating a strong likelihood of illegal wildlife possession and trafficking in direct violation of the Wild Animal Reservation and Protection Act (WARPA). This second violation within 365 days of the first gives the DNP the authority to permanently revoke the
tiger zoo’s permit and charge the license holder with up to five years imprisonment for smuggling wildlife.

Jedsada Taweekan, WWF Thailand’s Illegal Wildlife Trade Program Manager, also applauded the government’s actions as being a strong first step in examining the transparency of tiger businesses in Thailand and in showcasing what conservation action is possible under the newly revised wildlife laws.

“By enforcing relevant articles of the WARPA to suspend and withdraw the zoo license for this illicit business, the DNP is setting a benchmark for what is possible, not only in Thailand, but for other countries that have similar tiger facilities to strongly show that tiger breeding for trade will not be tolerated. We are confident that the owner will be appropriately prosecuted to set a clear precedent for future cases.” 

WWF is working to stop the illegal wildlife trade and to protect the remaining 3,900 tigers in the wild, and has identified tiger facilities across Southeast Asia and China as a problematic channel through which criminals continue to exploit tigers and undermine wild tiger conservation. Since zoos are driven by profit, these businesses can seek to maximize benefits derived from the exploitation of tigers in captivity. Petting zoos rely on a steady stream of profitable cubs, frequently inbred and unhealthy because of rapid breeding, and when they mature to a less profitable age they are traded into the black market of live tigers and their parts and products. WWF is calling for the phase-out of tiger facilities that engage in these illegal activities as they can stimulate demand for tiger products and complicate law enforcement efforts, thereby increasing poaching pressure on wild tigers. 

“Breeding tigers in captivity that cannot be released to the wild serves no conservation benefit and is solely for the profit of commercial businesses,” added Taweekan. “There needs to be a strong and transparent database that provides a foundation for consistent monitoring and reviewing of non-compliance. WWF is committed to assisting the DNP in its ambitious goal to conduct DNA tests on the over 1500 tigers currently being held in 39 facilities across the country.”
Captive tigers in Thailand
© Anton Vorauer / WWF