How Kenya Almost Exported 300 Wild Animals to Thailand

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In 2005, Kenya tried to export 300 wild animals to Thailand to a zoo that, apparently, was planning to turn them into exotic cuisine. It did not go well, obviously, and there was even a fist fight in a TV studio about the whole thing.

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.

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 km 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 Shinawatra’s private zoo would make Kenya Thailand’s 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 Kenya’s 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.

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 even a report at the time that Australia had sent some animals to the zoo in exchange for the import of Asian elephants to Taronga zoo. The Kenya government’s response was clear. It did not regret the deal; it regretted making the deal and its contents public.

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.

In December 2008, the Bangkok Post reported that 300 animals from 20 different species at the zoo had died in the previous 24 months. The animals, the zoo said, died due to stress caused by relocation of the shippers. Obviously not from becoming food.

The zoo also said it was up to them (the shippers) to replace the dead animals. What fuckery!?

Owaahh, 2014.

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Last modified: June 15, 2023