When most people think of Thailand they conjure images of sweeping sandy beaches, vibrant cities and a rich culture. And so they should, this country is absolutely fantastic for all of these. However, one area all too often on the Thailand tourist trail is that of ‘Tiger Temples’ or zoos – and I just cannot fathom why!
Understandably, when visiting a new country one may want to learn more about the indigenous, exotic wildlife found there. I am certainly one of the first to suggest this; being as over-the-top animal-mad as I am. In Thailand the easiest way for one to do this is to visit a local ‘Tiger Temple’, ‘zoo’ or ‘sanctuary’, when with a little more effort it’s possible to see these animals in their natural habitat in the wild elsewhere in the region.
If one is short of time, the animals in captivity tend to be the order of the day. These establishments, of which there are unfortunately many surrounding the tourist rich areas of Bangkok and Phuket, tend to feature well known tropical, dangerous and all too often endangered species, such as tigers (Panthera tigris), Orang utan (Pongo sp.), crocodiles (Crocodylus sp.), bears and a number of monkeys.
The main reason why I decided to write this blog, is that a very good friend of mine recently returned from holiday in Thailand (unfortunately not booked through us!) and while he was proudly showing me his holiday snaps we came across some of those posted here. I have always been opposed to these establishments, but there was something so starkly inhumane about the state of these noble, wise and impressive animals that it just broke my heart. I decided that I had to spread the word somehow.
At these places you can get your photo taken with a tiger (adult or cub), as well as some of the other animals living here. Of course the only way a total stranger could sit with a fully grown King of the jungle is if it was de-clawed, beaten into submission and dosed with an extraordinary amount of drugs. You only need to look at these photos of tourists to see how spaced-out the animals clearly are. And perhaps it has something to do with my recent return from the jungles of Borneo where I came face to face with a fully wild orang utan, that the sight of a fully grown male orang wearing a t-shirt with glazed eyes made me feel genuinely sick.
So many of these establishments are essentially circuses, with Asian elephants balancing on one leg on a podium, tigers walking on their hind legs and being whipped, and ‘brave’ men sticking their hands inside a crocodile’s jaws ( the crocodile is either beaten into submission or drugged and please note that this ‘trick’ has backfired too many times.) The animal’s origins are largely unknown, and although some are captive bred, many undoubtedly come in as young victims of poaching, their mothers taken for medicine, meat and sale of ornamental parts.
Essentially, what I am trying to do here is open people’s eyes to this and to discourage as many as possible from visiting these centres. Not only because there are some more genuine, fantastic wildlife viewing opportunities in south east Asia, but mostly because if these centres didn’t attract tourists they would be forced to close; allowing the animals the opportunity of a more dignified existence.
Please note: As a conservationist, I am also a realist and do advocate situations in which people can be educated and experience the glorious nature of wildlife – otherwise why would you want to conserve them? I only advocate these opportunities to interact with wildlife if the animals are captive bred, treated in a caring and dignified manner, and the profit gained from the experiences sold go back into nature conservation. Otherwise it is exploitation – pure and simple.