The owner of a tiger farm banned under Lao law since 2016 was murdered this week in an apparent business dispute, drawing renewed attention to the presence in the country of operations catering to the illegal trade in wildlife animal parts.
Thao Chik Xayavong, described by police as a Thai national, was shot dead on April 28 outside a car wash in the Hin Boun district of Khammouane province in central Laos, where he kept his farm, sources told RFA’s Lao Service, speaking on condition of anonymity.
It was unclear how long ago Xayavong, using a Lao name to establish his business, had opened his farm, and police are now searching for his still-unidentified assailant, sources said, also speaking on condition they not be named.
Speaking to RFA on April 30, a police official in Khammouane said little progress has been made so far in determing why Xayavong was shot, though sources said earlier he may have been killed in a business dispute.
“We are working closely with district authorities, but the exact cause is still unknown,” he said.
Xayavong was shot to death in broad daylight when we went to wash his car and stop by a beauty shop close to his farm, sources said. And though his assailant quickly sped away in a car, a witness to the attack was able to provide a brief description.
Speaking to RFA on May 1, an official in the province’s Ministry of Agriculture and Forests said that Xayavong’s farm was run as a zoo and tourist attraction, though few tourists visit the remote area.
“The tiger farm was opened as a tourist attraction, but I don’t know how many tigers are kept there or where they got them from,” the official said, adding, “I am not involved with them at all.”
Farms now banned
Before the Lao government banned tiger farms in September 2016, announcing that all farms would be closed within the year, private businessmen operated tiger farms along the country’s border with Vietnam and China and in other remote areas.
A large farm holding about 235 young tigers could still be seen close to the border of Borikhamxay province and the capital Vientiane before the ban was put in place, though close views of the facility were obscured by black plastic sheeting, sources said.
And at the end of 2017, at least five tiger farms were still in operation in Laos, with at least 700 tigers held in captivity, according to a Dec. 30, 2017 report by the U.K. Daily Mail.
A memo sent on Jan. 5, 2018 by the Lao prime minister’s office to various government department now calls for better protection of the country’s wildlife and improved international cooperation aimed at blocking trafficking in endangered species, sources told RFA in earlier reports.
Many tiger farms remain open in Laos in areas difficult to reach by road, though, and tiger parts and products including meat, bone, and bone wine are still offered for sale in black markets and in high-end restaurants catering to Chinese customers in the capital and in Special Economic Zones, sources say.
Reported and translated by Sidney Khotpanya for RFA’s Lao Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.