Last month, a new pet cafe opened in Siam Square which is sending Instagram into a frenzy. Inside Kitties & Bears Cafe, you'll find fluffy puppies and pedigree cats strolling around for customers to pet while they sip on lattes. But that's not all. In other rooms, you can also sit with raccoons and meerkats.
This is just the latest in Bangkok's booming pet cafe industry, which in the last two years has seen an increase in the exoticism of pets which are on offer. While in 2015, a cafe that had Fennec foxes
was seen as controversial, now there are cafes such as Zoota Bistro near Central Eastville, where you can socialize with capybarra, Ekkamai's Pooltime Cafe
, where three raccoons are like the cafe's mascots, and The Animal Cafe
on Narathiwat, where they have their own line of exotic cats.
To animal rights NGOs, the escalation of Bangkok's pet cafe industry is a frightening trend. "Using wildlife as pets and keeping them in unnatural environments constitutes cruelly breaking animals," commented Somsak Soonthornnawaphat, head of campaigns at World Animal Protection-Thailand, in a statement regarding Pooltime raccoon cafe. "The pets that they show and allow to play with customers have truly suffered."
The vice-president of international campaigns for PETA Asia, Jason Baker, issued an even stronger statement opposed to the practice. "Raccoons and other wild animals confined to cafes are deprived of everything that is natural and important to them," said Baker. "They live in a perpetual state of confinement, discomfort, and stress and are subjected to a constant barrage of strange noises, activity, and people trying to touch them. These animals often become despondent and develop neurotic and self-destructive behavior including pacing, rocking, swaying, bar-biting, and self-mutilation."
When asked for comment, Pooltime Cafe's owner, Pongpob Srileung, defended his business, saying that keeping raccoons as pets is nothing new: "In Russia and South Korea, keeping raccoons as pets is normal. Those three raccoons on Instagram are my own pets. They live in a raccoon-only room secluded from other pets."
Pongpob also added that, when the raccoons are tired and need to sleep, he will not allow customers to enter the room.
Pet cafes are just part of a thriving business for exotic pets in Bangkok. Piyasit Pattanapram runs Chatuchak's Minizoo exotic pet shop
, where he imports and sells species from all around the world, including capybara from South America, panther chameleons from Madagascar and African albino porcupines.
"Most of our animals are quite high-end, like raccoons or monkeys, which cost over B10,000," he told us in an interview last year. "We aim for people who have high incomes and really want to have this kind of pet to distinguish themselves. However, teenagers are becoming target customers as well, because they have purchasing power and are quite impulsive—we offer them things like baby squirrels".
Defending his business, he commented: "We’re registered as a breeding center and we’ve done everything legally. We’re licensed to trade in animals listed in the CITES treaty (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). All of our animals are bred and are not taken from the forest." He said
Still, these attempts at legitimization hold little wieght with animal rights charities concerned by the growing number of Bangkok businesses using exotic animals to draw in customers.
"I don’t know why anyone would want to eat a meal surrounded by animals who are imprisoned in pens that are tiny fraction of the size of their homes in the wild" said Baker of PETA Asia. "If people knew that these animals’ instinctual needs, such as seeking out mates, raising their young and foraging, are completely stifled, I don’t think they would visit these places."