How Kenya Almost Exported 300 Wild Animals to Thailand

It was bound to happen again. Someone was bound to try again anyway. Given the long proven karma of history repeating itself, and the forest remaining the same despite the monkeys changing, it was only a matter of time. Only it was not so easy this time.

On November 9th 2005, then Tourism Minister Morris Dzoro and Thai Natural Resources and Environment Minister Yongyut Tiyapairat signed a deal to transfer 300 wild animals from Kenya to Thailand. The deal was witnessed by the Kenyan head of state at the time, Mwai Kibaki, and the Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. It is unclear whose myopia missed the controversy that this public deal would elicit but before long it became clear that much had changed since the 70s. The controversy started almost immediately after the deal was signed. The Thai Prime Minister had to be smuggled outside the posh Village Market after protesters blocked the main entrance as two conservation groups filed a court case to stop the deal.

Because you know...inspecting... Image Source.

Because you know…inspecting…
Image Source.

Three decades before, the Philippines strongman Ferdinand Marcos had come to Kenya and left with a gift of over 100 wild animals. The case was never made public during the transactional stages and in keeping with the social silence of the time, never reached the national limelight. Only 2005 was a different time.

Kenya defended her gift by saying it would give the animals to the Asian nation to strengthen relations. Apparently, forcibly removing marabou storks, dik diks, buffaloes, antelopes, zebras and other animals from their natural home to an ecosystem not designed for them was the glue Kenya needed to marry Thailand. For a country whose wildlife population had been decimated by almost 60 percent between 1977 and 1994, this level of bullshit seemed to sell.

The animals would supposedly be transferred for purposes of tourism and research. They would be put through the 7, 200 sea voyage on the promise of that they would not be mistreated or used for unethical research. They were not purchases, the Thai government insisted. PM Shinawatra told the media “We’ve not come here to buy wildlife. We are engaged in a joint effort where instead of culling your excess wildlife, you send the animals to us for joint research because if we undertake joint research, it will benefit both of us”.

The story was obviously deeper than just stronger relationships. It was rumoured to attract a gift of $500, 000 from the Thai government to have the animals moved to the Thai Chiang Mai night safari zoo. Giving Thailand 300 or so wild animals for what turned out to be Thaksin Shinawatras private zoo would make Kenya Thailands economic hub in Africa and would increase the hiring of English teachers from Kenya. All these economic privileges for a mere 300 wild animals.

Soon after, it turned out that the research the PM was talking about was of a culinary nature. The head of the Zoo, Dr. Plodprasop Suraswadi told reporters that the zoo will be outstanding, with several restaurants offering visitors a chance to experience exotic foods such as imported horse, kangaroo, giraffe, snake, elephant, tiger, and lion meat. That controversial statement all but ended the zoo project, but not before the two sides of the argument resulted to good old-fashioned combat to make their point.

The deal brought tempers to such a high that it resulted in one assault case in Thailand after aides of Plodprasop, also the assistant minister of natural resources and the environment, physically attacked two conservationists after a television debate. During the debate on a programme on Channel 9, the two sides spurred around the morality of the transfer. When the cameras went off, the fists came on. It took the television crew to settle the fist fight for Kenyas wild animals.

While Thailand was getting a boner over the possibility of a legal rendition of wild animals, Kenya was experiencing a mini-revolt against the deal. On December 16th 2005, over 500 members of the Maasai community brought business in Narok to a standstill as they protested the deal. They termed it as bio piracy and filed a petition signed by about 15, 000 residents. The High Court blocked the deal and the Thai government wisely decided to kill its interest, at least publicly.

The Kenya governments response was clear: It did not regret the deal; it regretted making the deal and its contents public. No one had so much as raised a finger when Marcos got his haul of wild animals in the 1970s because no one except those in the know knew what exactly was going on. This thinking was best captured by the Foreign Ministers statement that This is not a dangerous affair at all. The total number of animals to be relocated over a period of time will be 175 from 25 different species. We have done it before although it was a discreet process. It is not harmful, neither will it interfere or kill our tourism.

Ecoterra Thailand

Protestors outside the Milimani Law Courts in Nairobi. Image Source.

Modelled after the popular Singapore Night Safari, the Thai Chiang Mai Night Safari Zoo, it turned out, was going to be serving the very species it wanted to import from other countries, including Kenya. While the Kenyan case was won in the courtroom, other countries did not have such qualms about sending their animals to the zoo. There was a report that Australia had sent some animals to the zoo in exchange for the import of Asian elephants to Taronga zoo.

The zoo did finally open even after Shinawatra was toppled from power. In December 2008, the Bangkok Post reported that 300 animals from 20 different species at the zoo had died in the last 2 years. The report did not clarify whether they had died natural deaths or they had died at the sharp edge of a knife as part of an exotic cuisine for eager tourists. The animals, the zoo said, died due to stress caused by relocation of the shippers, and it was up to them (the shippers) to replace the dead animals. What fuckery!?

Owaahh, 2014.

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