January 09, 2014 00:00 By Pongphon Sarnsamak The Nation
Angry officials, poison, predators all cited as causing gaur deaths
IT IS SUSPECTED that the deaths of 18 rare gaurs in Prachuap Khiri Khan’s Kui Buri National Park could have been the result of a conflict over the removal of wildlife protection officers and plans to merge two national parks as a Natural World Heritage Site, according to officials.
Phongphan Wichiansamut, chief officer of Prachuap Khiri Khan’s Kui Buri district, said he suspected the main motivation behind the mysterious deaths of the 18 gaurs – the world’s largest wild cows – was conflict over the removal of Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) protection officers.
There was also ill-feeling over the proposed merging of two national parks – Kui Buri and Kaeng Kra Chan – which are expected to be designated as a Natural World Heritage Site and developed as a destination for tourists.
“After the deaths of the 18 gaurs was reported through the media, the department removed the former chief of Kui Buri National Park and sent in a new official to replace him to manage the national park,” he told The Nation.
“As a local man, I think the deaths of the gaurs resulted from the conflict over the designation and removal of park officials,” he added.
Merging of parks questioned
Kitti Sainamkhiew, a member of Kuiburi Conservation Group, said the merging of the two national parks would affect the management of Kui Buri National Park.
He too questioned the department’s action in replacing the former chief of the national park.
He said villagers in local areas were now protesting against the new appointee who might come from Kaeng Kra Chan National Park to replace the former chief.
The DNP’s deputy director, Theerapat Prayurasiddhi, has insisted disagreement over the removal of DNP officials had nothing to do with the fate of the rare gaurs in Kui Buri National Park.
Officials were moved based on their performance, he said.
Theerapat also denied reports that the merging of the two national parks was behind the suspicious deaths of the gaurs.
“It is just a proposal. The department has no plans to merge these two national parks,” he said.
The department has set up a fact-finding committee to find answers to why the gaurs died.
The result is expected by the end of this month.
Theerapat said he saw three possible reasons behind the cause of death: disease, poisoning, and hunting by tigers and wild dogs.
A preliminary check had found at least two of the 18 dead gaurs |were killed by a tiger or wild dogs, he said.
Kamol Oon-Jai, chief of Kui Buri forest reserve conservation and recovery project, said he thought personally the animals’ deaths might have resulted from disease rather than poisoning or conflict among officials.
“I have worked here for more than 15 years and I don’t think someone would kill the gaurs because |he wanted an official position,” he said.
Meanwhile, Kitti said local villagers had collected Bt100,000 as a reward for finding the people responsible for the death of the gaurs.