The tycoon behind Pattaya’s Elephant Kingdom theme park defiantly refused to suspend operations, claiming his crocodile-feeding attraction is safe and was targeted as a knee-jerk reaction to a viral internet video.
Uthane Yangpraphakorn on July 18 loaded an elephant and park employees onto the raft that carries 15 tourists at a time into the middle of a lake to feed hungry crocs, then shot holes in it, had workers beat it with pipes and issued a challenge to reporters that if anyone could prove it was unsafe, he would award them 5 million baht.
The antics, reported widely by the Thai media, came after Bancha Sookaew of the Chonburi Fisheries Department a day earlier attempted to present a license-suspension letter to Uthane, demanding the crocodile ride be suspended for up to 90 days or until safety regulations were met.
Uthane was told to submit detailed safety protocols, such as age restrictions, staff training, and the engineering specifications for the raft, according to Thai media.
Uthane did not appear to receive the letter and staffers said he was traveling out the area. Authorities then put up signs indicating it was a danger zone and that tourists should keep away until further notice.
Bancha said the park had received a lot of criticism after a video showed panicking Chinese tourists on the raft amid a pack of frenzied crocs.
“We are not here today to close down the place permanently, but we are here to hand over a suspension letter for the crocodile activities,” Bancha said. “Other activities like elephant riding and others will still be open for service.”
Uthane later told authorities that he refused to comply with the suspension and had done nothing wrong. If it was concerned about safety regulations, the Fisheries Department should give a warning and then conduct an inspection, not raid the park and tell him to shut down, said the tourism tycoon.
Uthane’s family owns two other crocodile farms, including one in Samut Prakan where a worker suffered near-fatal injuries during a crocodile attack.
Uthane said the Pattaya park has been operating without issue for 12 years and had been featured on television shows. He said the criticism only arose after the viral video and authorities were overreacting.