OPINION: Why students at Thailand’s top uni protesting killing of protected panther matters

Photos: Courtesy of Seub Nakhasathien Foundation
Photos: Courtesy of Seub Nakhasathien Foundation

In the midst of a mounting public outcry that calls to mind the shooting death of gorilla Harambe at the Cincinnati Zoo in 2016 and the illegal hunting death of Cecil the lion by American dentist Walter J. Palmer in 2015 in Zimbabwe, Thai students are not letting the alleged actions of millionaire Premchai Karnasuta fade quietly from the public stage.

Yesterday, students at Thailand’s top school, Chulalongkorn University, held a candlelight vigil in which they donned black leopard masks to keep attention on the Feb. 4 killing of a protected black panther by the influential president of the Italian-Thai Development company, Premchai. The businessman, along with three others, has already been arrested for illegal hunting in Kanchanaburi’s Thungyai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary.

Far from letting the incident fade away without reprimand, as often happens when the rich and connected bribe the right people in Thailand, these students — many the offspring of the rich and connected themselves — are making their voices heard.

Though these are some of the most privileged, well-mannered students in the country — students who are, frankly, not known for speaking out about politics — the matter has been taken to heart by their community in striking fashion. They’ve been joined in their crusade by social media users who are condemning the killings with a Thai-language hashtag that translates to “RIP black panther, you won’t die in vain.”


Perhaps this issue is of extra significance to usually mild-mannered Thais because the majority of the country practices Theravada Buddhism, one of the major tenets of which is doing no harm to any living creature.

Though the country is a meat-eater’s paradise, this killing was allegedly purely for sport, a pastime deeply unpopular in a society that widely believes that taking a life will result in their own life ending sooner and/or a significant dose of bad karma.

Whether or not religion has played a key part in the furore, it’s simply refreshing to see these students — the future leaders of the country — making their voices heard against high-ranking Thais, when the strictures of Thai society generally dictate that they not speak out against their elders.  

Notice that, in the ongoing investigation into Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan and his collection of undeclared, blinged-out watches, there is much discussion, mostly in the form of jokes and memes. True, there has been some anger and scattered calls to resign, but not the earnest outrage and upset related to the killing of this panther.

The latest legal development in Premchai’s case came yesterday, with he and his three associates were confronted with additional animal cruelty charges, which are punishable by up an up to two-year prison term and/ or a fine of THB40,000 (US$1,275).

The foursome had already been charged with nine crimes that include illegal hunting in a wildlife sanctuary and illegal possession of guns and ammunition in the park, these are punishable by 19 years in prison with a maximum fine of THB150,000 (US$4,780).

It will be interesting to see if Premchai gets out of a harsh punishment for his crimes (like rich girl Praewa or actress Anna Reese) or simply flees the country like so many law-breaking, rich, influential Thais have done before him (We see you former PMs Yingluck, Taksin, and Red Bull heir Boss).

No matter the outcome, if the issue gets these young, privileged Thais impassioned enough to take a stand against their powerful — and often corrupt — elders, that’s something.

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