A wildlife rescue foundation in Thailand says it is being harassed by the government for speaking out about alleged official involvement in elephant poaching. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Phetchaburi province, where parks department officers have been raiding the group's compound.
Thailand's Department of National Parks last week began taking animals from the Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand.
Officials say the foreign-run wildlife rescue group was unable to produce ownership documents for all of their animals and must surrender them.
However, the head of the group, Edwin Wiek, says his paperwork is in order and the visiting officials are not there to enforce the law.
"This is all lies, intimidation, only because we speak up about the illegal trade in elephants in Thailand and the illegal wildlife trade within Thailand. A cover-up for the criminals done by the Department of National Parks," said Wiek.
Wiek says park officials showed up after he published letters in Thai media in January that questioned their accounts of how elephants were killed at national parks.
Thai police suspected the deputy head of Kaeng Krachan National Park and some park rangers were involved in the poaching, but so far only two villagers have been charged.
The head of the park, Chaiwat Limlikitaksorn, denies his staff committed any wrongdoing.
"I can confirm that every national park authority loves nature and no one is involved in elephant poaching," said Chaiwat. "What was broadcast by the media makes it sound like the national park authority is involved in elephant poaching."
While Thailand has earned praise from some conservationists for its anti-poaching programs, Chaiwat says his park does not have enough rangers and the punishments for killing a wild elephant are too lenient.
Thai officials say elephants are killed mainly for their ivory tusks, worth about $1,500 per kilogram, but poachers also take other parts such as genitals and meat to be sold as traditional medicine and exotic food.
The poachers also kill adult elephants that are protecting babies, which are sold for around $7,000 to work in Thailand's lucrative tourist trade.