BANGKOK: South Korean reality TV show Law Of The Jungle sparked public outrage in Thailand when one of its celebrity contestants dived to the bottom of the sea in a national park and caught three giant clams - an endangered and protected wildlife species - for cooking in a survival test.
Actress Lee Yeol-eum was seen swimming with the camera crew in the sea at the Hat Chao Mai National Park of Trang province, southern Thailand, when she spotted a giant clam among corals. Its hard, wavy shells were slightly open, revealing the bright yellow soft body inside.
Wearing gloves, fins and a snorkeling mask, the South Korean actress dived to the seabed to get the giant clam but could not move it. In her second attempt, she was filmed pounding on the clam before resurfacing.
“It won’t come off!” she said to the camera before swimming off to look for a new target.
It did not take long before she spotted another clam and took a dive to the bottom of the sea. This time, Lee pulled hard and managed to retrieve it while the camera crew stood on corals, documenting her victory and joy.
Lee gave herself a thumbs up and raised the clam high above her head when she resurfaced, waiving with excitement.
“I was the happiest person in the world. I did it. I caught this with my own hands,” she said after the hunt, in which she managed to catch three of the endangered giant clams.
PARK AUTHORITIES TO TAKE LEGAL ACTION
Law Of The Jungle is a reality-documentary show that airs on SBS. The 55-minute programme is also available online and is watched by many Thais.
After its latest episode went to air recently, Lee’s seafood hunt stirred up controversy among Thai viewers and prompted officials at the Hat Chao Mai National Park to take legal action against individuals involved in the production.
“We’re in the process of filing police complaints against people involved in the case, including the company that sought permission for the production and liaisons,” head of the Hat Chao Mai National Park Narong Kong-iad told CNA.
According to Narong, the production team had been granted permission by the Tourism Department of Thailand as well as the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation prior to the filming.
The group, he added, was “fully aware of regulations and laws”.
“They must have understood what they did was wrong. The National Parks Department has already been in touch with coordinating firms to inform them of the wrongdoing and legal actions,” Narong said.
Scientifically known as tridacna gigas, the giant clam is the largest clam in the world. It lives on coral reefs and can grow beyond 1.3m in width and weigh up to about 250kg. The soft muscle inside its hard shells contains a lot of protein and is considered a delicacy. A giant clam has an average life span of 100 years or more. Once it finds a place on a reef, it stays there for the rest of its life.
In Thailand, giant clams are an endangered wildlife species. They are protected by the Wild Animal Reservation and Protection Act of 1992, which prohibits the hunting and trading of protected wildlife. Individuals who violate the law can face four years in jail and/or a fine of no more than 40,000 Baht (US$1,300).
In the TV show, contestants are also seen eating the giant clams Lee illegally caught in the following episode.
“This action clearly breaks the law. The giant clam is a protected wildlife species. Although the wrongdoing has already occurred and aired, the case should be forwarded to South Korea to officially keep them informed. Actions should be taken,” said Dr Thon Thamrongnawasawat, a marine scientist from Kasetsart University who is deeply involved in marine conservation.
According to Narong, the production team did not inform the national park officials of their location when they filmed the controversial seafood hunt. As a result, there was no official monitoring the crew.
“Every time they filmed, they had to inform the officials so we could provide assistance and monitor the production. However, the images that appeared are likely to have been taken at another area in the national park,” he told CNA.
“There are many tourist sites in the national park. We can’t monitor all of them.”