This was originally a post on MAZWO.com.
After 3 months, 13 days and 17 hours of being in Asia, I have finally come to the end of my tether.
I write this from a hotel room in Thailand and I have just spent the last two hours researching the horrendous treatment of animals, most of which are endangered species, around Asia. I have been overwhelmed with shock at the awful treatment hundreds of wild animals have been subjected to in each place I’ve visited, and even more shocked to hear about how ignorant people are. It’s time to speak up.
First, a little bit of background. I’m 19 years old and currently travelling. I’ve visited India, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and, finally, Thailand. I love animals and am horrified to hear about the mistreatment of them. After 3 months, 13 days and 17 hours of being in Asia, I have finally come to the end of my tether.
Below, I have outlined some stand-out experiences, as well as links for those who want to research further.
The Incident with the Cambodian Dog
The first instance of cruelty to animals began on the Cambodian coast in a town called ‘Sihanoukville’. Not famed for being a luxurious resort, we stayed in a rather grotty hostel run by fairly bratty, western ‘travellers’. Like most of Asia, the beaches are overrun by stray dogs which are very sedate due to the high temperatures and lack of food and water for them. I was completely gobsmacked, as were most people in the bar, when one member of staff from the hostel hauled one of these stray dogs onto the bar and proceeded to draw on it with a marker pen. At first, I was confused. Were my eyes deceiving me? Was I honestly seeing a relatively well educated, British woman drawing on a dog with poisonous marker pen? I was. I promptly walked over and demanded it stopped. Afterwards, my boyfriend washed the dog off with water to make sure the pen didn’t stain and irritate its fur. Needless to say, we made a quick exit out of there the next morning.
“Is it OK to draw on my dog with Magic Marker?” – Yahoo Answers
“Monkey Island”, Nha Trang
We then continued to Vietnam, the country famed for eating both dogs and cats (they singe off the fur and eat them raw).
We headed over to the coast to popular Russian tourist destination, Nha Trang. We’d heard that there were some amazing islands off the coast which you could visit, one of which was called ‘Monkey Island’. I love monkeys, and I love islands, so I naively presumed this must be the place for me. Having read the TripAdvisor reviews, I soon realised it wasn’t. The former ‘Medical Experimental’ island is home to hundreds of ‘free’ monkeys where tourists can go and feed the monkeys with bananas and peanuts. Whilst here, you can also watch a ‘circus show’. Yup, it’s as horrific as it sounds. The intelligent monkeys are chained to the back of a dog so it looks as though they’re riding them. They also have chilli pepper sprayed on their gums to make it look as though they’re talking, an old fashioned practice allegedly used on the British PG Tips adverts. It was disturbing to therefore read the positive reviews from seemingly intelligent people. One Californian writes “The monkey show was funny and unique”, whilst another person from Newcastle, UK admits to having great fun, and even admits he had a whale of a time “riding an ostrich”. The ostrich in question will have had a bag thrown over its’ head to calm it down, not to mention the beating and cruelty the bird will have endured beforehand to ‘tame’ it so it can carry a human which weighs half as much as itself. Hmmm…not really ethical, is it?
The Buddhist Temple, Luang Prabang
Our next stop was Laos. We stayed for a few nights in Luang Prabang, a tourist destination famed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It attracts hundreds of people everyday to wander around its magnificent Buddhist temples, one of which is situated on Phou Si Hill. The hill is a popular site, especially at sunset, and many people flock there to take pictures. Bearing in mind this is a Buddhist temple (read about Buddhist ethics here), you’ll be shocked to hear that halfway up you are able to buy two songbirds which you can ‘let free’ at the top. Said birds are kept in tiny, wooden cages for hours under the heat of the sun, and even more worryingly, people actually buy these birds. The demand is therefore there, so production remains high.
The next day, we visited a Sun Bear enclosure which homes bears which it has saved from poachers and, somewhat more worryingly, ‘Chinese Medics’. The bile from their gall bladders are said to cure headaches and organ failure, so the beautiful, energetic creatures are kept in miniscule cages for years on end whilst the bile is extracted and sold to China. Pretty messed up, eh? Have a look at the ‘Free The Bears’ website here.
Chiang Mai, a northern Thai town well known for its ‘Elephant Sanctuaries’. I was dubious to say the least. I have a school friend who is currently travelling around Thailand as well, and I was puzzled when I saw a picture on Facebook of them with a tiger. “Well I never”, thought I, “What a friendly, calm tiger!” I wonder what causes the tigers to be so calm? Yep, you guessed. The wild animals which, I might add, are endangered, are drugged so that ignorant tourists can go have a picture with them. This came amidst the fury caused by ‘Tinder Guys with Tigers‘. These wild, energetic and intelligent hunters are drugged up to their eyeballs and chained up.
Also in Chiang Mai, you can go on a ‘night-time safari‘. Sounds romantic, doesn’t it? Well, it isn’t. You’re hoarded onto a tram after sunset and shown all the animal enclosures. The bright lights from the tram are shone in the eyes of the animals, disturbing their sleep, before you stop at the ‘Circus Show’. Here, you can have another picture with a drugged tiger. You can also watch a ‘Tiger Show’ featuring 7 tigers, 5 of which are Bengalese, the rarest in the world. The tigers are forced to jump through hoops, literally, and perform tricks. According to one reviewer, the animals are clearly underfed and are hit with whips by the ‘zoo keepers’ in front of a live audience.
I’ve now arrived back in the haven of Bangkok, a place I believed would be much more forward thinking and metropolitan in terms of the treatment of animals. Just like London and Edinburgh, Bangkok also has a city zoo. You may be surprised to hear where the zoo is, however. It’s on top of a shopping mall. I don’t want to imagine how they got the animals there, but they did. And yes, if there’s a fire, the animals will burn to death.
In this zoo, there is a gorilla, one of the world’s most endangered species of ape. It is named ‘King Kong’, and is kept in a small cage, alone since it’s partner died ten years ago. They also have two tigers which share an enclosure just 20 paces wide. They have one penguin (the other eleven died), which is kept in a concrete den with a tiny pool, too tiny for the penguin to swim in. They also have bears, orangutans and deers. All of these animals are kept in tiny cages with concrete floors and no natural daylight. They are kept in worse conditions than western prisoners are. And these are animals which have done nothing wrong.
We are, of course, talking about the city in which eight men were arrested for butchering a tiger, amongst other rare animals, in an underground warehouse. They were fined just £800 for this heinous action.
Last, and by no means least, I come onto my old favourite: the elephant ride. What traveller doesn’t want a photo of themselves on the back of an elephant? Well, I’m not sure I do. In fact, I’m 100% certain that I don’t. Where to begin?
The elephants which are used for these rides are kept in eye watering conditions and treated awfully. Elephants are not domesticated animals naturally. In order for the elephants to be ‘tamed’, they must first be ‘broken’ so that they become submissive to the mahout. Mothers and their young are torn apart at an early age before the beating, starvation and sleep deprivation begins. The mahouts use bullhooks, electric shocks and chains in order to make the elephant submissive to their demands. The animals are kept chained up for hours on end. Elephants are used to walking for miles every day in the wild, and they are also very social animals who have families and friends. To keep them in solitary confinement, chained up in a concrete den, is hideous. Did you know that elephants can cry?
It is such a cruel act to ride elephants, not only because you’re sustaining the awful practices of the mahouts, but also because it harms them. An elephants’ back is the weakest part of its body and it is damaging to the elephant to ride it for sustained periods of time. The cages which people sit on also bruise, scar and blister the elephant’s backs, many wounds becoming infected.
There is only one ‘animal law’ in Thailand. There is no mention of the amount of food animals must be fed, nor how large their enclosure must be. The only thing that is ‘illegal’ is the direct mistreatment of an animal. And for this, you can receive a hefty fine of…..£20. No, that wasn’t a typo. £20.
It also annoys me how people go on about how they “washed the elephant”. Don’t be so stupid! An elephant is a wild animal, not a baby. It is quite capable of washing itself!!
You can also go and watch a baby elephant dancing, and yes, the elephant is drugged so that it sways to the sound of the music. Hmmm..
So, there you have it.
Rihanna, the famous bajen popstar, was photographed only a couple of year’s ago with a picture of an endangered specie of lemur in Phuket, Thailand, as well as showing the world how she’d stood next to a herd of elephants in the city. She was branded a “heroine” for raising awareness of the situation, yet I’m not convinced she really set out to do that. I think it was more a clear show of ignorance.
The thing that worries me most is that it is seemingly intelligent, well educated people who are continuing to have pictures taken with tigers, ride elephants, swimming with ‘very sedate crocodiles’ etc. These are people who have been educated to a high standard, and should probably know that drugging a wild animal isn’t really the smartest thing to do. I mean, for God’s sakes, you only have to google “Should I ride an elephant in south east Asia?” to learn what an awful thing it is to do. The tourists involved are most possibly people who cry at the RSPCA adverts, yet remain ignorant of the welfare of wild, endangered animals.
It gets me so angry, as you can probably tell!
Only when the demand stops for this uncalled for cruelty, can animals truly be free.