Just say no to animal attractions in Thailand.
When the closure of Kanchanaburi’s infamous “Tiger Temple” in 2016 made international news, it felt like the world had finally awakened to the realities of these controversial attractions. Reports painted a grizzly scene of freezers packed with dead tiger cubs and a host of tiger parts extracted for presumed “medicinal” use, while illegal breeding and animal trafficking were alleged by animal activist groups.
Unfortunately, reports of a new “Tiger Park” set to open in Phuket suggest we’re back to square one. A scathing Facebook post by Go Phuket shows a billboard poster of a child hugging a tiger cub with the words “Tiger Park. Coming Soon.” The caption reads “Tiger Park or tiger hell? Another captive animal attraction is set to open in Phuket, near the Big Buddha.”
Adding to such attractions as chained-up elephants and monkeys on the road to the Big Buddha, the opening will only worsen the challenges associated with managing the growing number of captive tigers, which now stands at around 2,000 in Thailand according to the Bangkok Post. As reported by the BBC in September, over half of the tigers “rescued” in the Tiger Temple raid have since died in government custody—something authorities have attributed to various factors, including stress, viruses and genetic disorders related to inbreeding.
“Well, this is sad,” laments Kirsty Smith of Bangkok animal shelter PAWS Bangkok. “Shouldn’t we be stepping away from the commercialism of animal cruelty?... No matter how this park promotes itself, this will not in any way, shape or form be conservation. Unfortunately, tourists will be duped into visiting, unaware of the cruelty that these animals will endure and the abuse will continue. I would say at the very least the tigers will be drugged, chained, beaten with bamboo sticks, cubs taken from their mothers and adults will be isolated and living in misery.”
Tomas Brown of For Tigers, a non-profit organisation dedicated to improving the welfare of Thailand's captive tigers, advises against visiting facilities such as this one. "The opening of yet another tiger venue demonstrates that the industry is only growing, highlighting the need for tourist education with regards to the facilities they visit. It is important that potential visitors research welfare standards to make an ethical and welfare-friendly decision, something that can be found in our July 2019 report—Stalking Thailand's Tourist Tigers."
With no jail penalities following Tiger Temple’s closure and captive tiger numbers on the rise, it’s time authorities tightened controls on animal cruelty. In the meantime, it’s up to us to spread the word on the true cost of these attractions.