11 July 2024

The Department of National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation has been ordered to investigate how tourists were allowed special access to watch gaurs at Khao Paeng Ma no-hunting zone in Wang Nam Khieu district of Thailand’s north-eastern province of Nakhon Ratchasima.

The probe was ordered by Natural Resources and Environment Minister Warawut Silpa-archa after it was reported on social media that VIP tourist groups, allegedly organised by a temple in the district in collusion with a private tour agency, were allowed into the zone to watch the protected species at close range.

Thai PBS learned that the well-known temple has been organising gaur watching tours on a regular basis. They allegedly divide tourists into three categories, namely senior officials, who have the privilege of watching the animals at close range because some of them are responsible for providing funding the non-hunting zone, those who are close to the temple abbot and those who attend a Dharma course at the temple, a group which does not enjoy the privilege of getting close to the animals.

Natural resources and environment permanent secretary Chatuporn Burutpat said that, as a rule, tourists who visit the Khao Paeng Ma no-hunting area must seek prior permission from the rangers and then they are allowed to watch the gaurs from a designated area, which is a safe distance from the animals and does not disturb them.

He explained that people are not allowed to get close to the animals because they may carry diseases which endanger the animals.

Thai PBS also learned that illegal guides have also arranged tours, to watch wild elephants in Khao Yai national park at close range, exclusively for foreign tourists for a fee of between 1,000-1,500 baht per head.