Animal welfare

The pandemic has worsened animal welfare abuses in Thai zoos and the pet trade | News | Eco-Enterprise

A ramshackle department store nestled among Bangkok’s skyscrapers is home to the rooftop Pata Zoo, where nearly 300 animals roam in cages littered with excrement, food scraps and trash. Bua Noi, the zoo’s main attraction and Thailand’s only known gorilla, was kept in a cage here for 30 years, isolated and alone.

“This zoo does not meet any standard of animal care or welfare,” Georgina Groves, executive director of Wild Welfare, a UK-based nonprofit, said in a press release. “For too long, this has resulted in zoo inaction and, as a result, terrible animal suffering.”

After years of pandemic restrictions due to Covid-19, tourists are returning to Thailand, eager to bask on beautiful beaches and see the country’s remarkable animals. But all is not well with these animals – elephants, tigers, primates and many others.

Without money from tourists during times of travel restrictions imposed during the pandemic, some captive animals languished in appalling conditions. Even before Covid-19, animals used in tourist attractions, zoos and as pets were often mistreated and abused.

Edwin Wiek is the founder of Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand (WFFT), an NGO working to rescue and rehabilitate animals captured in this trade. Few of these animals will ever be able to live in the wild, according to Wiek, who gave the example of a captive gibbon, a small ape found in South Asia, which has been used in the tourism and pet industries. company, including in Thai bars. and strip clubs.

“This animal no longer has a natural instinct,” Wiek said. “He doesn’t know how to defend himself, build a territory, protect a territory.”

Properly protect the forest, make sure animals are not disturbed, there is no poaching, there is no encroachment and in the meantime you can work on ecotourism to support the expenses and cost of doing so.

Edwin Wiek, Founder, Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand

A wildlife sanctuary like Wiek has been suggested as the right place for Bua Noi, the eastern gorilla (beringei gorilla) at Pata Zoo, which, like many other commercially abused animals, has no chance of living in its natural habitat.

Multiple petitions over the past two decades have demanded that Thailand’s Department of National Parks revoke Pata Zoo’s operating license. More than 115,000 people have signed a petition to give Bua Noi and the zoo’s other primates a better environment. Pata Zoo officials did not respond to Mongabay’s requests for comment.

The zoo is still in operation and Bua Noi remains in his cage. Thailand’s animal welfare and protection laws have been developed to protect native wildlife, leaving the door open for non-native animals, like Bua Noi, captured from the wild in other countries and brought to Thailand for the pet trade and zoos.

Even for native animals, the law is poorly enforced. Some tigers (panthera tigris), which are native to Thailand, are bred in captivity and remain in captivity. The inbreeding of tigers and other animals for the pet trade, zoos and traditional medicine can have serious health effects, such as stunted growth, spinal deformities, limb deformities and breathing and brain dysfunction. The National Parks Department declined to comment on the lack of enforcement.

One of Thailand’s most popular tourist destinations is the island of Phuket, about 850 kilometers (530 miles) south of Bangkok. Phuket’s only zoo closed at the end of 2021 due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on tourism. WFFT rescued some of the animals from Phuket Zoo, including a tiger named Mee Mee. WFFT staff say Mee Mee has been visibly inbred, resulting in crossed eyes and incessant drooling.

A few kilometers from the old Phuket Zoo, Tam, a 28-year-old white-handed gibbon (Hylobates lar) dangles in his enclosure at his now permanent home, the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project (GRP) in Phuket. The GRP is working to rehabilitate gibbons that were kept as pets or in zoos and to release some of them into the wild.

But life in the wild is not in Tam’s future. Tam was illegally kept as a pet and beaten so badly, according to the GRP, that one of her hands and one of her feet had to be amputated. She then lost three fingers on her remaining hand.

“All the gibbons we care for have been through hell,” said Thanaphat Payakkaporn, secretary general of the Wild Animal Rescue Foundation of Thailand, which runs the GRP.

Even when animals are confiscated from private owners, they do not always survive. When the Tiger Temple, a popular tourist site run by monks, closed in 2016, the Thai government took nearly 150 of its tigers to government wildlife centers, where they did not behave well.

“Only 17 or 18 are alive,” Wiek said.

Of course, rehabilitating and releasing animals into the wild is only part of the answer, according to Wiek, who said there needs to be more emphasis on protecting the natural environment and habitats. of these animals in the long term.

“Protect the forest properly, make sure animals are not disturbed, there is no poaching, there is no encroachment and in the meantime you can work on ecotourism to support the expenses and the cost of doing so,” Wiek said.

It’s a big challenge, so for now NGOs are doing what they can. During a tour of the WFFT facility, a mountain lion (concolor puma) named Jan, another non-native species, which had been kept as a pet in a 3 by 4 meter (10 by 13 foot) cage for most of its life, waited at the fence of its enclosure to Wiek to scratch his back, while the group watched.

The chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) to the WFFT facility, Canoe, also seems to have a special connection to Wiek. Yet another non-native species, Canoe was kept in a small cage at a school in Bangkok for 35 years of its life before being brought to the center. Its cage is displayed in front of its enclosure and serves as an educational tool for visitors.

As the cart pulled away, Wiek promised Canoe he would be back later. The canoe climbed to the highest point of its enclosure to watch the group drift away down the gravel road in front of its house.

This story was published with permission from Mongabay.com.