Thai Officials Raid Animal Refuge Before Political Meeting
BANGKOK, Thailand, July 28, 2004 (ENS) - The Thai Forestry Department appeared to be using wild animals for political purposes when it raided the Wildlife Friends of Thailand rescue center in Petchaburi Monday just before a political meeting between the center's founder and high ranking Indonesian officials.
The center, which offers refuge to over 130 animals, was stormed Monday afternoon by some 20 Thai officials who confiscated 14 animals. A number of animals were injured as they were captured and family groups were torn apart.
This occurred less than 24 hours before Edwin Wiek, the center's founder, was due to attend a meeting between visiting Indonesian officials and the Thai Forestry Director-General regarding the repatriation of over 100 orangutans that are now being illegally held in Thailand at various places.
Wiek has been lobbying for the confiscation, repatriation, and release back to the wild of the orangutans for over eight months, and the issue has attracted the interest of the Thai press and some international attention.
American, European and Australian volunteers at the center, looked on in horror as animals were baited and physically wrestled to the ground with steel cable nooses, before being stuck in tiny cages and loaded onto the back of a truck to be taken to a holding bay.
Cages were stacked precariously on top of each other allowing monkeys to fight through the bars, resulting in several injuries.
Terrified baby macaques were jammed in next to a large sun bear that was severely stressed and throwing itself from side to side.
Several volunteers sat down in front of the trucks refusing to allow the animals to leave the premises until they were physically removed by the local police.
Cathy Case, a professional wildlife rehabilitator from California, said, "In 25 years of wildlife rehabilitation I have never seen such callous disregard for the welfare of animals."
Wiek refuses to be intimidated by the authorities' actions. He said, "I have lived and worked in Thailand for over 15 years and whilst I am not surprised by these tactics I am disgusted that an international government would use animals to communicate political messages."
"It only makes me more determined to not only get these animals back for further treatment, but to repatriate the orangutans currently held in Thailand and to go on fighting to ensure animals have a safe and healthy refuge in Thailand in the future," he said.
Information provided by an unnamed source working at the Huay Sai Tai Breeding and Research Centre of the Forestry Department where the animals have been taken revealed that the animals would most probably be kept in the small moving cages they were collected in as there is no room in any of the cages at the center for any more animals.
Wiek says this will severely compromise the animals’ well being. "These cages are barely suitable for moving the animals, let alone housing them in for long periods of time," he said.
"From an animal welfare point of view," says Wiek, "it is an absolute outrage that animals have, on the order of the authorities, been moved from a sanctuary setting where they are housed in spacious, environmentally enriched enclosures and are now being held in cages in which they can barely move."
As an example, the two bears have been removed from a 2,000 square meter enclosure living together with other bears and are now most likely being held in isolation in the moving cages in which they cannot even turn around in or sit up straight.
Staff members of the Wildlife Friends wish to check on the condition of the animals but have been refused permission to enter Huay Sai Tai, which has suddenly closed its doors to the public with no explanation.
At this stage the main concern of the Wildlife Friends is the welfare of the animals and that they are given the housing, care and nutrition that they need. Several of the animals taken were on specialized diets; three young macaques and the bear cub were still being given milk formula.
Wiek has a history of working closely with the Forestry Department, having previously returned animals to the authorities when appropriate enclosures or breeding programs became available.
The violent and aggressive approach taken by the Forestry Department staff threatens the working relationship which has been built over the last three years since the Wildlife Friends center was first established on temple grounds at Kao Look Chang.
The Wildlife Friends are appealing for international support in raising awareness of the situation and in working towards having the animals returned to the care of the rescue center. Wildlife Friends volunteers from all over the world have urged their respective ambassadors in Thailand to take action.
Monkey World, the respected international primate rescue center and Dr. Willie Smits, Indonesia's leading orangutan expert, have both condemned the authorities' actions.
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