This morning whilst zipping through my news feed I came across an article by Circa which boiled my blood but also reminded me of my own niaivity when I first arrived in Thailand as a tourist. For as long as I can remember I have always been fascinated with wildlife, particularly big cats and Elephants -we’ve all voiced an “ahhhhh” when the young elephant walks into a tree in a sandstorm during the sympathetic narration of Sir David Attenborough – so visiting Thailand was a perfect opportunity to get up close and personal with some of these beautiful creatures.
December 2012 and accompanied by a friend who had already visited Thailand on numerous occasions, we elected to visit various Buddha statues and points of interest.
Along the routes we could see strings of tourists heading to the same destination (usually up a hill) riding aloft these majestic animals, taking the mandatory selfie and looking pretty cool in the process. Of course my initial thoughts were indeed “WOW, I HAVE TO DO THIS, I LOVE ELEPHANTS”
That night whilst having a beer and avoiding the toothless woman selling scorpions on a stick I saw a baby Elephant walking the street with his Mammut (the term for elephant handler/guide), of course i said hi, of course I fed the baby and stroked its rough skin and all still massively clueless of the little fellas journey to the Khao San Road. Within minutes the decision was made, the next goal of the journey was to see more elephants and get those selfies posted to the envy of those stuck at home in the miserable British winter. The very next morning we scoped out the various locations and decided that Chang Mai was just too far away and could be kept for another leg of the journey. Instead, we elected for Phuket as the next destination as it had a zoo advertising Elephants & my favorite of all…..Tigers!!
The home page of Phuket zoo looks like this……
Now I would like to draw your attention to the 2nd paragraph which states “New species of fish, birds and other animals are acquired each year as well as young from our various breeding programs. We exchange animals with other zoos to get rid of excess stock and bring in new blood”
GET RID OF EXCESS STOCK AND BRING IN NEW BLOOD!?!?!? What the actual fuck!!!!
Clearly the advertising campaign they are trying to portray is that of care for the animals, reducing over-crowding, breeding rather than capture etc etc but it’s there for us all to read and it doesn’t take a mastermind to read between the lines of that statement. For those of you that need it spelling out I think it’s fair to say that the breeding programs involve capture, training (torture) where needed and excess stock ends up on a dinner plate in some fancy restaurant in China.
The reality of the Phuket torturous prison 1st hand…
Waking up nice and early we met for breakfast in our more than comfortable surroundings of the 5 star hotel and wittered on with child-like excitement of heading to the zoo. A croissant and latte later we where away with cameras in hand ready to meet all the amazing animals the zoo had to offer.
On arrival we paid the entry fee and guided ourselves through the walkways, following the signs towards the elephants only stopping momentarily to take photos of the smaller animals on display. Like most zoos this one had everything laid out in a fashion that led to the stars that everyone was there to see.
We’re hear at last……the elephants!! I can remember a sudden rush of cold horror as I rounded the curved pathway which led to the Elephants enclosure. Expecting to see these beauts roaming around over a mixture of sand and grass with a few hillocks or maybe even a medicine ball for the babies to play around with. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The reality of the Elephant enclosure at Phuket Zoo is nothing more than a horror story. That broken fencing is to stop visitors approaching the Elephants and to ensure the safety of said dumb-asses, the Elephants are chained by the ankle to the floor with maybe a meter of chain if they are lucky. A picture paints a thousand words, or so they say, for those of you that find this particular one disturbing then just try to imagine the memory I have of this place.
We are all well aware that Elephants are an intellectual animal & very family orientated, being restrained to the height of boredom (and probably insanity) I see all 3 of them rocking back and forth under different paces, much akin to the stereotypical Hollywood loon in the psycho wards. Not changing body positions, just rocking with the odd bellow that sounds weak and feeble and nothing like the noise delivered by a truly wild animal. The place stank to high heaven and I can imagine the “getting rid of excess stock” may even involve the odd shallow grave nearby. Quite frankly, it’s a disgusting place and a horrific sight even to the non-sensitive individuals passing by with kids in tow. The background echoes of children proclaiming “It’s an elephant mummy” with a recognizable response of a parent wishing to remove their child from such a sight as promptly as possible.
We moved on from the Elephant enclosure and to say that it didn’t put a lump in my throat would be a lie. The next few enclosures where easier on the eye and then came the crocodile enclosure….. you can imagine my opinion on this photo less space than the Jubilee line at rush hour, says it all really.
The final nail in the coffin for both Carolyn and I was seeing the Tigers; Or should I say Tiger. As the last animal on display before exiting the zoo we found a queue of tourists waiting for that Tiger photo. Whilst joining the queue we could see the next dumb-ass getting his selfie. She was laying down on a waist-high table, a chain around her neck and clearly drugged up to the eyeballs. Once the dumb-ass was in place behind her the trainer (jailer) gave her a slap around the head and then yank her with both hands into the laying position with head held high, with another slap (this time from a length of bamboo) she showed her teeth without even the tiniest of noises. This was the breaking point for me, I wanted to take that piece of bamboo and wrap it around his head, 17 years a military man and I have never been so enraged and upset all in one moment. I’m not afraid to say, albeit to the shock of Carolyn, I shed a tear as I eagerly made for the exit before landing myself in trouble.
THERE IS HOPE…..
Thankfully the Thai government have recently been closing down the so called Tiger Temples and protecting the animals.
What about the Elephants though? They are not protected as yet
You can view the video I watched this morning at the bottom of this blog, the initial intro is shocking but continues on to highlight the good work that Lek and her team are doing in Chang Mai – the only recognized Elephant sanctuary in Thailand – She has successfully established a business that re-homes, assists elephants and cares for them following the torturous abuse that they have endured just to satisfy the dumb-ass tourist requirement of a novelty.
The overwhelming problem that still exists is you and I, the dumb-ass tourists that do not look beyond to what has taken place prior to our royal butts being carried by these magnificent animals.
So allow me to pass on some pearls of wisdom for you and open your eyes to what Dumbo has to endure for your satisfaction. It’s called the ‘Phajaan’ meaning ‘Broken’ every single Elephant you see in tourism within South-East Asia will have been through this ritual torture for at least a two day period. Aimed at breaking the animals will and creating its obedience to humans they are restricted of movement, beaten, hit in the top of the head with a Pick-like tool called a ‘Bull Hook’ until they have no will left whatsoever.
Quite simply the key is education, if tourism requires something then their will always be individuals willing to do anything to make money, even at the expense of a living being. If we educate ourselves, pass on that education to others & the requirement in the market disappears then so do the money grabbing in-humane arse-holes that do things like this.
If you plan to visit Thailand or indeed any other country that uses animals for tourism, think again. Do a little research and find those sanctuaries that are actually making a difference and do something worthwhile whilst you visit. You can donate, you can even volunteer to assist for a period of time and as you will see in the video, it makes all the difference not only to the animals but also those who get involved.
Don’t be a dumb-ass like me, learn before you arrive.
For details on Lek’s sanctuary click here: