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PM orders probe after top zoo official killed while investigating missing rare deer case at Songkhla Zoo

Caitlin Ashworth

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PHOTO: Isran News

PM Prayut Chan-o-cha has ordered an investigation into the Songkhla Zoo after a top zoo official investigating a missing rare deer case was shot and killed by the zoo’s senior veterinarian in an apparent murder-suicide. After the fatal shooting, some have cited concerns that the 2 rare albino barking deer may have been stolen and sold in the illegal wildlife trade. The prime minister is ordering the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment to investigate the case and “leave no stone unturned.”

While inspecting the Songkhla Zoo as part of an investigation into the missing albino barking deer, the director of the Zoological Park Organisation of Thailand, Suriya Saengpong, was allegedly shot and killed by senior veterinarian Phuwadol Suwanna. Phuwadol, who is also head of the zoo’s conservation, research and animal health division, then allegedly went back to his room, located at the zoo, and killed himself. The local police are also investigating the suspected murder-suicide.

An ablino barking deer went missing in February and then another went missing in September. Their pedigree traces back to a deer that was donated by HM Queen Sirikit. Board president of the Zoologicial Park Organisation Chawalit Chukajorn, who organised the initial investigation committee, said in prior reports that the missing animals case is a “serious issue.”

The Songkhla Zoo director Charlermwut Kasetsomboon claimed that the deer that went missing in September had been eaten by a python, saying he had photographic evidence and had it confirmed by a vet. Chawalit says he suspects the director’s claims could be a cover up. The Songkhla Zoo director as well as Phuwadol and a few other zoo officials were transferred to other posts for the organisation’s investigation.

Apparently, a horn from a dead white rhino recently went missing. Some suspect it was sold to wildlife traffickers, saying the rare horn is used in traditional medicine and can sell at a high price. The Natural Resources and Environment Crime Division, or NRECD, is now reviewing zoo operations and researching wildlife smuggling to prevent zoos from potential involvement in the black market trade.

While some are concerned that the albino barking deer were stolen and sold to black market traffickers, Thailand’s Natural Resources and Environment Minister Woravuth Silpa-archa says don’t to jump to conclusions.

SOURCES: Bangkok Post | Thai PBS World

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Caitlin Ashworth is a writer from the United States who has lived in Thailand since 2018. She graduated from the University of South Florida St. Petersburg with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and media studies in 2016. She was a reporter for the Daily Hampshire Gazette In Massachusetts. She also interned at the Richmond Times-Dispatch in Virginia and Sarasota Herald-Tribune in Florida.

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