Pattaya’s viral sensation: A lion cub chauffeured in a Bentley shocks the world. A Sri Lankan’s joyride leads to charges, revealing illegal possession. A luxury residence hid the truth; two women cared for the cub. Another woman harboured two more young lions. 

Pattaya made news around the world this weekend after stunning photos and video clips went viral. The image was of a Sri Lankan businessman driving a hired Bentley convertible through the resort city with a lion cub seated in the back seat. A viral video of the sight, witnessed by locals often in the last few weeks, created an online sensation. In short, it finally led to the seizure of the lion cub at a luxury villa in the city and the interrogation of two young women caring for it. Afterwards, another 28-year-old woman was found in the suburbs with two more lion cubs as wildlife authorities launched a national review and crackdown.

One of the many photos of the Sri Lanka businessman with the lion cub in the white Bentley convertible. It was seen regularly cruising through Pattaya in the past few weeks. Other photos showing a younger looking Indian man with the same car and lion cub are also online, with shots taken by both day and night.

In Pattaya, a Thai woman and two foreign nationals have been charged with illegal possession of a lion cub.

The investigation and charges came after a video and photos surfaced online.

One depicted a lion cub comfortably seated in the back of a Bentley Convertible cruising the bustling streets of Pattaya. 

Online coverage with videos and photos of a lion cub cruising in a Bentley convertible spread online, throughout Pattaya and across the world this weekend

Afterwards, local media chatter garnered significant attention. In turn, this prompted swift action from national park officials and law enforcement agencies.

An investigation, sparked by a viral video and the iconic Bentley photo, led officials to the lion cub’s owners. They were found at a luxury residence in the Bang Lamung district of Chon Buri.

Weera Khunchairuk, the deputy director of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife, and Plant Conservation (DNP), briefed the press. 

He revealed the lion cub was being raised in a private house, a pool villa in Tambon Nong Prue.

Inside the residence, police revealed two women—Sawangjit Kosungneon, registered as the lion’s owner, and Abina Kuruts, identified as the caretaker of the 9-month-old cub. The former is a Thai woman while the latter is Ukrainian.

Lion cub tracked with an embedded chip to a farm in Nakhon Pathom. Paperwork on the purchase and transfer of the animal half complete, therefore illegal

A microchip embedded in the cub revealed its origin to be a farm in Nakhon Pathom province.

Significantly, the farm owner, identified only as Mr Krit, had initiated the transfer of ownership to Ms Sawangjit. However, the paperwork for this transfer had not been completed at the time of the investigation.

Sawangjit informed officials that the house was rented by a Sri Lankan businessman.

At length, this is the man seen cruising through Pattaya in the Bentley with the lion cub in the back seat. The Bentley, it is understood, was rented, during the man’s stay in the city.

The 53-year-old Sri Lankan had left the country on January 22. Therefore, the case has an international dimension.

At the same time, photos of a younger Indian driver in the car with the lion cub were also recorded. The shots were captured at various locations both day and night.

The three individuals—Sawangjit, Abina, and the Sri Lankan businessman—are now facing charges of illegal possession of a wild animal under the Wildlife Protection Act. The Sri Lankan has not yet been identified.

Strict legal provisions govern the ownership and care of such animals in Thailand. They were not fully complied with and therefore the law was breached

Prasert Sornsathapornkul, the director of the Wild Fauna and Flora Protection Division of the DNP gave a briefing.

In short, given the unique circumstances of this case, the matter is more serious. The offence carries a potential jail term of up to one year and/or a fine of up to ฿100,000.

Although it is legal to own big cats in Thailand, there are strict legal provisions. 

In particular, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

The registered owner, Ms Sawangjit, had applied for permission to move the cub to Chonburi when it was purchased. However, no permission had yet been granted. 

‘Therefore, Sawangjit did violate laws concerning the taking of a wild animal out in public and moving its location without prior permission,’ explained Mr Atthaphon Charoenchansa, the department chief.

Farm in Nakhon Pathom now faces investigation and also charges in relation to the sale of the lion cub

Moreover, Mr Krit, the farm owner in Nakhon Pathom, also faces legal prosecution. Authorities plan to file a complaint against him for the possession of the lion cub.

In addition, he will be charged with the unauthorised transfer of wildlife.

In conclusion, these offences could result in a jail term of up to six months and/or a fine of up to ฿50,000.

The unusual investigation revealed that at this time, there are 38 owners across the country registered in possession of 224 lions.

In response to this incident, the DNP plans a review to ensure that all registered lions are housed in secure locations. The aim is to prevent a recurrence of such incidents which alarm the public.

2 more lion cubs found on Thursday, also from a farm in Nakhon Pathom. Previously, a case in March 2023 saw a lion cub living on a Pattaya housing estate

Similarly, an incident in Pattaya in March 2023 saw a lion cub living in a city housing estate. In that case, the owner, a Chinese national, had reported the cub missing.

The lion was later found inside the residence. Afterwards, visiting officials discovered the cub was free to roam the property and not caged.

In a parallel development, police executed a raid on a house in Tambon Huai Yai on Thursday.

Certainly, this was prompted by public anxiety and anonymous reports on the Pattaya Watchdog Facebook page. Officials were told other lions were living in the vicinity. 

The house owner, identified as 28-year-old Ms Saowapha, admitted to purchasing two lion cubs from a farm, also in Nakhon Pathom.

Police sought an order from Pattaya Provincial Court after the 28-year-old owner refused to allow lion cubs to be anaesthetised by wildlife officials

She told officers that, despite their seemingly tame behaviour, she planned to return them to the farm. This revelation raises concerns about the trafficking and domestication of wild animals in residential areas.

Previously, she was raising the cubs in the company of two rottweiler dogs. The property was located in Huay Yai in the Bang Lamung district of Pattaya.

Meanwhile, when officials went to anaesthetise the lion cubs, the owner Ms Saowapha objected.

Subsequently, Police Colonel Atthapol Inthayophaku of Huay Yai Police Station sought an emergency warrant from the Pattaya Provincial Court.

The lion cubs were named Alua and Lin Lin, a male and a female. The owner, Ms Saowapha, was questioned by police at length and also faces charges.

Bear nightmare as man saws off his hand to escape the jaws of a caged bear. The limb was later found in shreds as a local hospital tried to operate on him

In that case, police officers did not find any documents relating to the ownership of the animals. 

In a separate wildlife-related incident, a 32-year-old Swiss man, volunteering for a local wildlife foundation in Chiang Mai, suffered serious injuries in a bear attack. This happened on Thursday afternoon.

The Asiatic black bear, cared for by the foundation since 2013, unexpectedly bit the volunteer as he fed it.

Horrifically, to free himself from the bear’s bite, the man resorted to sawing off his right arm with a knife.

The incident makes clear the deadly risks associated with handling wild animals, even in controlled environments.

Lion cubs carted off to a breeding centre

On Friday, following police action, there was a crowd to witness authorities seizing the two lion cubs. They surrounded Ms Saowapha’s residence in Bang Lamung. 

The operation, authorised by the Pattaya Provincial Court, involved relocating the cubs to the Wildlife Breeding Centre in Bang Lamung district. 

Ms Saowapha, now faces charges of illegal possession of a protected wild animal.

She could potentially face a jail term of up to six months and/or a fine of ฿50,000 baht if found guilty.

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