Many of us lucky enough to have been on luxurious and exotic holidays have done it at some point, knowingly or unknowingly. Ridden an elephant, taken a picture with a tiger, gone swimming with dolphins, taken a selfie with a monkey or, in a pre-Blackfish world, been to a giant aquarium like SeaWorld.
Leading animal welfare charities have long called on tourists to think twice before supporting such attractions. But now it seems we’re finally waking up to the fact that ‘wild’ animal experiences and tourist attractions are probably never quite what they seem. In April an online petition called on Cambodia to totally ban elephant rides. It followed the news that an elderly elephant had collapsed and died while shuttling tourists along the well-known Angkor Wat route in 40c heat.
Today news that Thailand’s famed Tiger Temple in Kanchanaburi, officially known as Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua, has been raided and closed down by the country’s police and wildlife officials serves as just another reminder that what goes on at such attractions may suit tourists very well but is unlikely to be in the best interests of the animals involved.
STA travel stopped offering tours that included trips to the Tiger Temple in 2014. They also ceased to offer elephant rides and trips to SeaWorld in Orlando and San Diego.
Any scenario where an animal is doing something that they wouldn’t do in the wild is a good indicator that something is awry. According to World Animal Protection such types of attraction normally involve removing cubs/calves from their mothers at a young age and beating them or using punishment as a means of training them. They have even found that in some cases animals are drugged to make them easier to handle.
According to research conducted by World Animal Protection in 2014 there were 16,000 elephants in captivity worldwide (that’s a quarter of all elephants on the planet), 5,000 captive tigers in the US alone (compared with just 3,200 in the wild) and 8,000 lions being kept and bred in South Africa which was more than double the number of the number in the wild or natural reserves at the time. They say that 75% of such attractions involve cruelty to animals.
World Animal Protection are currently calling on TripAdvisor to stop promoting and selling tickets for anything involving the exploitation of wildlife as they still promote such excursions and tourist attractions.
The Tiger Temple housed 137 tigers, so far dozens have been removed. Officials say that they will be transferred to animal refuges. Officials have also reported finding frozen dead tiger cubs, who they believe died at one or two days old. There have been allegations of abuse and trafficking levelled against the monks at the Temple since 2001 and the World Wildlife Fund has welcomed the closure of the Temple and called on Thailand’s government to prohibit tigers being kept there in the future.
While the monks who ran Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua deny any wrong doing PETA has said that the Temple called itself a ‘sanctuary’ when ‘in reality tigers [there were] imprisoned and denied everything that is natural and important to them.’ They also cite reports of monks beating the tigers with sticks, confining the tigers in cement cells for up to 20 hours at a time and accusations that the Temple was exchanging older tigers for cubs with other countries when they became too difficult to handle.
There was a time when you couldn't scroll through Tinder without seeing several guys posing casually next to a tiger they met while they were travelling on their gap yah. Cool story bro, tell it again. The closure of thailand's Tiger temple could, thankfully, mean the end of such pics. It’s time that tourists became more conscious consumers. Let’s be real. Tigers don’t really spontaneously pose for selfies, elephants aren’t generally seen letting people hitch a ride on their backs of their own free will and killer whales aren’t really known for their people skills. There are other ways of encountering wildlife – at animal hospitals, sanctuaries and in wild parks or nature reserves. Let's face it, unfortunately, as long as there's a demand for tiger selfies, lion walks, killer whale shows and elephant rides there will be people willing to provide them.
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This article originally appeared on The Debrief.