Kenya's wildlife goes on the menu at Thai zoo

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The Independent Online

Kenyan conservationists are furious after the government agreed to ship wild animals to a Thai zoo that is offering its visitors a chance to eat giraffe, zebra and crocodile.

Kenya recently agreed to send 175 wild animals including giraffes, buffalos, flamingos and gazelles to the newly-built Chiang Mai Night Safari in northern Thailand. This week, the zoo announced that it would celebrate its official opening on New Year's Day with an "exotic buffet", where guests can pay 4,500 bhat (£64) to sample anything from dog to lion meat. The director of the zoo project, Plodprasop Suraswadi, said the animals would be legally imported and killed for the feast.

The announcement has dismayed wildlife groups in Kenya, who already had misgivings about sending wild animals to a zoo in Thailand. No endangered animals are being sent, but Richard Leakey, former head of Kenya Wildlife Services, said the plans went against the ethos of modern conservation. He added: "Some of the larger zoos do serve a useful role in education but for Kenyan animals to be sent there as a curtain-raiser for an institution that is probably serving endangered species from south-east Asia is appalling.

"What this zoo is doing is serving bushmeat - and bushmeat is one of the greatest conservation challenges of the 21st century."

Thailand already has a reputation for being a trading centre for the illegal trafficking of endangered species, and Thai wildlife groups have said the menu will confuse visitors about the real objectives of the zoo.

Surapol Duangkae, secretary of the Wildlife Fund of Thailand, said: "The idea will set the country's image back a century because, nowadays, zoos around the world aim to educate and conserve wildlife, as well as campaign to stop the killing of animals." Kenya's president, Mwai Kibabki, and several cabinet members confirmed the deal to send the animals to Thailand last week, during a three-day official visit to Kenya by the Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The deal was done over the head of Kenya's leading conservation groups, who demonstrated during Mr Shinawatra's visit with placards saying: "Wild animals need freedom" and "Conservation not exploitation".

A spokesman for the Kenyan government, Alfred Matua, said the government of Thailand had not paid anything for the animals, but had agreed instead to provide Kenya with technical help and training on wildlife management as part of the exchange deal.

He added that the deal should boost tourism, saying: "We expect the number of tourists from Thailand will double or triple if they see the animals. They will want to see them in their natural settings."