Jeremy Corbyn Faces Brexit Showdown With His Labour Party
Behind the veneer of the Tiger Temple, a zoo run by Buddhist monks, was a business profiting from the illegal trade in tiger parts. Three monks were arrested while trying to escape, and in a highly publicized spectacle 147 tigers were seized and taken to a government-run facility.
The raids were a high-water mark for Thailand in its effort to crack down on animal abuse and the illegal trade in tigers and tiger parts. But since then, the plight of Thailand’s captive tigers has only worsened.
Officials admitted last week that 86 of the seized temple tigers had died in their care, many from stress-related causes. No one from the Tiger Temple ever went to jail for possessing tiger parts or for operating the lucrative unlicensed zoo.
In recent years the number of tigers in captivity — including those remaining in the government’s custody — has tripled to about 2,000, and the number of facilities with captive tigers has grown to 67, with two more under construction, said Edwin Wiek, the founder of Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand.
Since the raids, Thailand’s Department of National Parks has made no effort to stop the spread of hands-on experiences that the temple helped pioneer. Now, at least 20 zoos around the country offer visitors the chance to feed a cub, have a photo taken with a tiger or enter an enclosure.
Animal welfare activists have long urged the government to shutter those tiger zoos that are little more than farms producing animals for the black market.
“The whole system of animal welfare needs to be upgraded in Thailand,” said Tanya Erzinclioglu, who cared for tigers at the Tiger Temple before becoming an animal welfare activist. “They need proper zoo standards. Everyone would have to upgrade, including the Department of National Parks.”
One of the country’s oldest and largest zoos, the Sriracha Tiger Zoo, has more than 300 tigers.
There, piglets and tiger cubs are put together in cages. The smallest cubs and piglets nurse together from a sow or sometimes from a tiger — an echo of the Tiger Temple’s marketing mantra of peaceful coexistence among species.
At an exhibit called “Shoot ‘n Feed,” tourists fire pellet guns at targets above a tiger pen. Direct hits release food to waiting tigers, which fight over the scraps.
Elsewhere, visitors line up to have their photos taken as they bottle-feed cubs. Or they can attend a show where tigers perform tricks, such as jumping through a flaming hoop.
After the raid on the Tiger Temple, Ms. Erzinclioglu founded a nonprofit group, For Tigers, to help raise funds for their welfare and began conducting annual surveys of zoos.
In a July report assessing three dozen zoos open to the public, she concluded that tigers in 74 percent of the facilities were kept in inadequate conditions.
Nearly 60 percent of the zoos had no fresh water for the tigers, she found, and fewer than 20 percent provided spacious enclosures where the animals could move around without restraint or interference from humans.
In some zoos, tigers have been trained by handlers to fear being hit with a stick. Many have had their claws removed.
Ms. Erzinclioglu and her team counted 28 tigers at different zoos that were kept on short chains for hours a day so that tourists could pose with them for photos.
“There are more facilities with tigers than before the Tiger Temple was closed,” she said. “There are good places but overall they are very poor.”
The zoos cater mainly to tourists from Asian countries.
Young tigers are the most popular with visitors. Older tigers that have outgrown their usefulness are often shunted out of sight to smaller cages with concrete floors. They are the most vulnerable to the illegal trade.
It is not difficult to breed tigers in captivity and many zoos produce far more tigers than they need to entertain tourists.
It is, however, illegal to operate a tiger farm in Thailand. Mr. Wiek, who has been tracking the trade for years, says that about 20 facilities should be regarded as farms, not zoos, because more than 80 percent of their animals are tigers and the facilities are actively engaged in breeding them.
Moreover, he said, captive breeding encourages the hunting of wild tigers.
It may seem counterintuitive, but feeding and raising a tiger to adulthood costs more in Thailand than going to the jungle and shooting one. Mr. Wiek said the existence of tiger farms creates a market for tiger parts, which gives poachers an incentive to kill them.
Furthermore, he said, buyers will pay more for a wild tiger than for one that is farmed.
“The farming of tigers is having a direct effect on the wild population,” said Mr. Wiek, who operates a wildlife rescue center and has advisedParliament. “It is much cheaper to go out and shoot one in the wild.”
Tiger skins, bones, penises and other parts are highly desired in China and Vietnam, particularly for use in so-called traditional medicine.
The trade in tiger parts operates so brazenly that at least one company openly offers foreign tourists tiger-bone powder as a supposed health supplement, Mr. Wiek said.
“I cannot remember one case where a zoo that was caught for illegal trafficking or illegal possession actually lost its zoo license,” he said.
The director of Thailand’s Wildlife Conservation Office, Kanjana Nitaya, whose office oversees zoos, said all of the country’s zoos meet the requirements of their licenses.
Inspectors frequently visit the zoos and examine the health of the tigers, which they find to be satisfactory, she said.
Unlike the Tiger Temple, which was shut down because it was unlicensed, other zoos offering interaction with tourists have not faced sanctions because they have licenses, she said.
The department’s role is not to regulate what the zoos do with the animals, she said, but to ensure that they zoos take proper care of them.
“It is not our task to tell them their activities,” she said.
The World Wildlife Fund estimates that there are 3,900 wild tigers left on earth, inhabiting isolated fragments of their historic range.
Nearly 3,000 are in India, which has made a concerted effort to protect their habitat and increase their numbers.
Thailand is one of the few remaining countries in Southeast Asia with a viable wild tiger population, which numbers about 250. A small population of tigers was recently discovered in an area of northern Thailand where they had not been present for years.
“There is good news in Thailand,” said Tim Redford, a training coordinator at the Freeland Foundation, an environmental and human rights group. “There are still tigers breeding here. It is not a lost cause yet.”
If captive breeding were to become the last resort for saving the tiger, most of Thailand’s captive tigers would not be good candidates.
Many are inbred and most are a mix of tiger subspecies, including Amur tigers, which are native to Siberia and northern China, and Bengal tigers, which are native to India.
Among those in captivity, there are relatively few Indochinese tigers, the subspecies native to Thailand.
Last week, officials blamed the deaths of the 86 temple tigers on the fact that many were inbred and that some were ill when they were seized in mid-2016.
But it should have been standard procedure to quarantine sick tigers on their arrival. Instead, they were placed in relatively small cages close to each other, where contagious diseases could easily spread.
On Friday, officials invited journalists to the Khao Prathap Chang Wildlife Breeding Center in Ratchaburi, one of the two facilities where the temple tigers were kept.
The group saw two tigers that might have been from the temple amid rows of empty cages.
“I want to keep them in their best life, happy and living a long time,” said the center’s director, Banpot Maleehuan. “I never neglect them.”
Perhaps the best strategy for closing down disreputable zoos and tiger farms, suggested Mr. Wiek and Mr. Redford, would be to sterilize the inbred and mixed-breed tigers.
A lack of new cubs would curtail feeding and photo opportunities. And over 15 years or so, many problems associated with the tiger zoos and farms would disappear.
“It is the solution,” Mr. Wiek said. “When you cannot enforce the laws you have in place or people are so corrupt, this is probably the only way to stop the breeding of these tigers.”
Navaon Siradapuvadol contributed reporting.
BRIGHTON, England — Jeremy Corbyn, Britain’s left-wing opposition leader, was on Monday facing a full-scale revolt over his noncommittal approach to Brexit as bitter divisions dominated what most analysts expect to be the Labour Party’s last conference before a general election.
Demands for Labour to campaign openly against Brexit were scheduled to go to a vote on Monday afternoon, after two days of intrigue and infighting at the conference, including an abortive coup against the party’s centrist deputy leader, Tom Watson.
Defeat over Brexit would be a stinging rebuke for Mr. Corbyn, a lifelong critic of the European Union who hopes to face a general election with an ambiguous position intended to appeal to both those who want to stay in the bloc and to those who voted to leave it in a 2016 referendum.
Though the party membership is largely anti-Brexit, trade unions are largely pro-Corbyn, and they hold many votes at Labour conferences, giving Mr. Corbyn a chance of victory. On Monday, Len McCluskey, leader of the Unite union, supported Mr. Corbyn’s stance, telling the conference that what should define them was not their position on Brexit, but their socialism. However, another union, Unison, declared that it would support calls to remain in the European Union.
Even victory at the conference in Brighton, on England’s south coast, could be pyrrhic for Mr. Corbyn, because the ferocity of the debate has taken the shine off a gathering that was meant to showcase the party’s policy agenda, such as plans to reduce the working week, ahead of a general election that could come very soon.
A loss would be very hard for the leadership to ignore, and could push Labour into full and unambiguous support for overturning Brexit in a second referendum.
On Saturday, Mr. Watson said that he was the victim of an attempted “drive-by shooting” after he had learned by text message of an effort to abolish his job. Though Mr. Corbyn said he was not aware of the plot — and helped quash it the following day — the initiative came from Jon Lansman, a close ally of the Labour leader and the founder of Momentum, a pro-Corbyn pressure group.
Divisions between Mr. Watson and Mr. Corbyn are well known. In targeting Mr. Watson, Labour leftists might have been trying to remove him from the picture as a possible successor in case Mr. Corbyn is eventually replaced, perhaps after a possible general election defeat.
But tensions at the top of Mr. Corbyn’s team were also exposed when it emerged that Andrew Fisher, the head of policy, planned to resign and, according to British news reports, had accused colleagues of a “blizzard of lies” and of a “lack of professionalism, competence and human decency.”
At the conference, the most pressing issue was Brexit, a policy that has long divided Labour because, while most activists and Labour voters support remaining in the European Union, many of its lawmakers represent parts of the north and middle of the country where a majority opted to leave.
If he is elected prime minister, Mr. Corbyn says he wants to negotiate a Labour version of Brexit that would keep Britain closely tied to the European Union, and hold a second referendum giving voters the choice between that deal and remaining in the bloc.
In trying to please everyone, however, critics argue that Labour is in danger of doing the opposite. Those who have urged the party to be clearer in its support for remaining include allies of Mr. Corbyn such as the party’s finance spokesman, John McDonnell, and its spokeswoman for foreign affairs, Emily Thornberry.
In many respects, the debate reflects the growing polarization of an electorate that appears to be fleeing any possible center ground on Brexit and that is therefore demanding clear positions from party leaders.
“Brexit identity has become the new dividing line in British politics,” said Sara Hobolt, a professor at the London School of Economics. “This is what people care about, this is what drives a lot of opinion. They feel more strongly about their political identify on Brexit lines — whether they are Remainers or Leavers — than whether they are Conservative, Labour or Liberal Democrat.”
The dangers for Labour of sitting on the fence were illustrated by elections to the European Parliament in May, when the party finished third with just 14.1 percent of the vote.
Since then, and under the new prime minister, Boris Johnson, the ruling Conservatives have become full-throated cheerleaders for Brexit, promising to pursue it — “do or die,” as Mr. Johnson has said — even if that means the sort of disorderly rupture it once insisted it would avoid.
The newly resurgent pro-European Liberal Democrats want to scrap Brexit completely by canceling the 2016 referendum vote. That has put Labour in an increasingly difficult fight with the Liberal Democrats to win the Remain vote.
Mr. Corbyn’s supporters point out that he has moved position after he originally opposed a second referendum that he is now supporting. But he still does not say how he would campaign or vote in any referendum.
Some activists have become exasperated at Mr. Corbyn’s policy gymnastics, saying that they would be almost impossible to explain on the doorstep.
During the 2017 general election, Mr. Corbyn performed better than most analysts predicted by campaigning against austerity rather than focusing on Brexit. But repeating that trick is likely to be harder next time, given the dominance of the issue.
In the European Parliament elections, Ms. Hobolt said, as far as Brexit was concerned, “We saw that the parties that had the clearest and most unambiguous positions did best.”
Voters are already shifting their allegiance, based on their views on Europe, she added, noting that one survey showed less than 10 percent of Labour voters believed that the vote for Brexit was the right decision. That is down from an estimate of about 20 percent at the time of the 2016 referendum.
“There has been some sorting,” she said. “What we are seeing with both main parties is that Remainers are leaving the Conservatives and Leavers are leaving Labour.”