Export of Kenyan wildlife to Thai park infuriates experts

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The Independent Online

In an international row between conservationists and politicians, Kenya has been asked to abandon plans to export hundreds of its wild animals to a safari park in Thai- land. Conservation groups around the world say one of the leading animal tourism destinations cannot afford to give away its already diminishing stock of wildlife.

In an international row between conservationists and politicians, Kenya has been asked to abandon plans to export hundreds of its wild animals to a safari park in Thai- land. Conservation groups around the world say one of the leading animal tourism destinations cannot afford to give away its already diminishing stock of wildlife.

Thailand wants to import 300 animals, including white rhino, lions, leopards, warthogs and cheetahs for its Chiang Mai Night Zoo in the north of the country. In return, the Thai government has offered to send elephant handlers to Kenya.

Thailand's track record in animal care is not reassuring. More than 100 tigers were killed or died at the privately owned Sri-Racha tiger zoo in Thailand last year after they were fed chickens contaminated with bird flu, and there are concerns the Kenyan animals could catch a similar illness.

The groups also say Thailand's elephant handlers use unnecessarily cruel techniques, that cannot be used on fiercer African elephants. Kenya sent wildlife experts to Thailand in early January to inspect the conditions for the animals and agreed to send them, in return for a booth in the zoo promoting tourism in Kenya.

The 1.3sq-km zoo is expected to have 1,700 animals from Thailand and 40 from Australia as well as the ones from Kenya. The government claims it wants to use the animals for research purposes as well as to attract tourists. But Franklin Omondi of Youth for Conservation, a group lobbying against the export, said Thailand's claims that it wanted the animals for research did not make sense. He said: "It would be cheaper and make more sense to conduct the research in the animals' natural habitat than to capture, cage and transport them long-distance to an artificial environment in Thailand."

Other international conservation groups have written to Kenya's President Mwai Kibaki asking him to stop the exports, which they say will damage Kenya's reputation as an animal-friendly tourist destination. The Pan-African Sanctuaries Alliance, which runs animals refuges around the world, said it would reconsider plans to hold its 2005 workshop in Kenya if the animals are exported.

In a letter to the Kenyan Wildlife Service and the Ministry of Tourism, it said the deal "appears to display absolutely no understanding or knowledge of the current wildlife situation in Kenya, East Africa or Africa. We feel it is important the Kenyan government understands that decisions involving wildlife can have serious consequences in other areas of Kenyan tourism, commerce and trade".

Kenyan government officials say the deal simply allows Kenya to get rid of some of its overpopulated species.

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