Wildlife activists lose appetite over menu at zoo in Thailand

NAIROBI, Kenya -- Wildlife activists in Kenya are angry after Thailand announced this week it would offer a daily buffet of giraffe, zebra and crocodile meat to visitors at a zoo in northern Thailand. During a visit here by Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra last week, Kenya said it was sending 175 wild animals and birds to the zoo, infuriating wildlife welfare activists and conservationists.

The zoo -- Mae Hia Safari Park in northern Chiang Mai province, Mr. Thaksin's home region -- will open on New Year's Day and will feature five restaurants, according to Thai officials. Plodprasop Suraswadi, Thai deputy natural resources and environment minister, said Thursday that rare exotic meat as well as local delicacies like grasshoppers and insect eggs would be on the menu at the park.

Kenyan officials said none of the animals to be sent to Chiang Mai -- zebras, flamingos, African buffaloes, hippos, spotted hyenas, silver-back jackals and impalas -- was an endangered species. Connie Maina, the spokeswoman for Kenya Wildlife Service, was not satisfied with the explanation. "We need to verify about this buffet. If it's true, the government needs to rethink about sending animals to Thailand," she said.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), which led opposition to exports of Kenyan wildlife, also expressed shock. "IFAW is appalled at this idea of opening such a restaurant at Chiang Mai. It is like rubbing salt into the very wound that was put on Kenyans when the export deal was sealed," said IFAW spokeswoman Elizabeth Wamba.

She said IFAW was concerned when a technical team from Kenya Wildlife Service approved the Thai national park since "Thailand's animal welfare record is very dismal at the least."

"Is there any guarantee that the wildlife from Kenya will not end up on dinner plates now that other African wildlife seems to be destined for that?" Thai activists were also exasperated by the move, saying it left a bad taste in the mouths of conservationists who argue that it gives the impression that Thailand condones the trade in and consumption of endangered wildlife. "The idea will set the country's image back a century because nowadays zoos around the world aim to educate and conserve," Wildlife Fund Thailand Secretary Surapol Duangkae was quoted as saying by the Nation newspaper in Bangkok.

By Bogonko Bosire
November 19, 2005