Wildlife Tourism in Thailand

Wildlife Tourism in Thailand

Picture by N. Pundt. Made with https://www.canva.com/ .

Whether it’s a zoo, a park or a wildlife sanctuary, Thailand has a broad variety of animal attractions for tourists and locals to explore. Tigers, elephants, monkeys, snakes, you name it. These parks are often advertised to tourists by travel agencies or travel blogs as something that you must visit while in Thailand. These sanctuaries and animal rescues can be amazing places for endangered animal breeding programs and for educational purposes. Unfortunately there is also a dark side to Thailand’s wildlife tourism.

Thai Fauna

Thailand has a diverse ecosystem that is home to many different animals. The elephant, or ช้าง(ไทย), is the most iconic animal of the country. This is because it has been Thailand’s official animal for many years. You can find the Thai elephant anywhere in the country! Whether you see one in real life or just as a design on your Thai tourist pants, their presence is undeniable. Other well-known animals include tigers, leopards, tapirs, monkeys and otters. Reptiles such as crocodiles, snakes, lizards and turtles are popular as well. Besides mammals and reptiles Thailand is also home to over 900 different species of birds [7]. Sam Roi Yot National Park for example hosts six different types of hornbills. [8]

As a tourist there are many ways to see and experience Thai wildlife. If you go to a zoo or a sanctuary you can see many different species of animals. But you can also go places where there is only one kind of animal. If that is more up alley then farms are the place to go. The most popular include elephant farms and tiger farms. Besides those there are also snake farms, monkey farms, cattle farms. If you´re from Europe like me, or any other Western country, you probably have a different idea of what to expect from a farm. Let’s have a look at the most popular types of animal farms in Thailand.

Elephant farms

For a long time elephants played an important part of Thai culture. In the past the Thai elephant was used to help people with manual labour. Back when logging was still legal elephants were trained to transport the heavy logs, carrying them through the forests [1]. Even more surprising is that the Thai elephant was used during times of war. It even gained the nickname of the ´warm blooded tank`. [5]

Picture by N. Pundt. Questionnable Elephant Park in Chiang Mai Province, Thailand. 

The total amount of elephant farms in Thailand is unknown. Many farms emerge illegally and are at great risk of being taken down by the Thai government. Especially in the rural areas where the living conditions are hard, many touristic parks can be found. You will find them in both large and small scales, in order for locals to earn some income. Does this mean that all elephant farms are harmful? As long as you do proper research there are actually places for tourists to visit where the living conditions of the elephants are up to standard. A well known example is the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai. This sanctuary was set up in 1990 and provides care to rescued elephants. They are very active on social media, often posting blogs and pictures of their elephants and other animals. The Elephant Nature Park is open to visitors and volunteers, who need to follow strict rules to ensure the safety of people and animals. Needless to say it is not allowed to ride the elephants. Besides volunteering programs they also offer educational programs for their visitors, their volunteering staff, schools or other interested parties. The sanctuary is completely dependent on funds and donations. More information is available on their website. [2]

Picture by N. Pundt. Rescued elephant in Chiang Mai Province, Thailand.

Tiger farms

During the summer of 2016 Thai authorities shut down a tiger farm in a temple, infamously known as Tiger Temple. After it was shut down Thai officials of the Department of National Parks removed 147 live tigers, the bodies of 70 tiger cubs (30 in jars and 40 in freezers) as well as an estimated 1,000 amulets made from tiger skin. This particular case got a lot of media attention worldwide. Tiger Temple has now been named Asia´s most notorious tiger farm. [4] The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) says that part of the problem in shutting down tiger farms is that it can be hard to distinguish harmful tiger farms from captive breeding facilities and sanctuaries established for breeding purposes or from legitimate zoos.

“The Thai authorities have taken brave and decisive action to close the Tiger Temple and they must close all the other tiger farms in the country to help end the illegal trade in tigers and tiger parts in Thailand. The illegal tiger trade does not stop at Thailand’s borders – Viet Nam, Laos and China should also take similar steps” – Y. Thiarachow, Country Director, WWF-Thailand. [11]

What makes the issue more complicated is that even though more illegal farms are shut down, many of those tigers cannot be released back into the wild. To help countries overcome this challenge international support would be needed. The Wildlife Friends Foundation, a Thai NGO, even goes as far as saying that the international community should step up and offer financial support to motivate the Thai government to uncover and end all active tiger trading operations and ensure the well-being of these tigers. [10]

Picture by Ola Jennersten, WWF.

What is Thailand doing to help?

The Animal Activist Alliance of Thailand (AAA) has been taking very active measures in recent years to vouch for animal rights in Thailand. In April 2012 they worked together with 30 other animal welfare organizations and protested in front of the Thai parliament. The protests received a positive response, and as a result a sub-committee was created in the parliament to work on a draft bill. A few years later, in 2014, Thailand released its first animal welfare law called the Prevention of Cruelty and Animal Welfare Provision Act (พระราชบัญญัติป้องกันการทารุณกรรมและการจัดสวัสดิภาพสัตว์ พ.ศ. ๒๕๕๗). This law relates to domestic ownership, tourism, agriculture, hunting, medical and cosmetic testing. [6]

Furthermore Thai authorities are very busy trying to catch poachers and stop illegal animal trade. In 2019 for example, Thai officials were investigating a gang that was allegedly targeting wild tigers in Malaysia and Thailand. Two members possibly related to said crime gang have been arrested after being caught with tiger remains. The Thai police asked experts from the Freeland Foundation for support with this case. [9] Thailand is one of six countries where the American Freeland Foundation is active. This foundation aims to educate, reward and protect to work towards a world free of wildlife trafficking and human slavery. Freeland has a team of law enforcement and communications specialists active in parts of Asia, Africa and America. They also offer their services and support to ASEAN and the AIPA (ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly). The Freeland Foundation is also looking for interns, volunteers and employees. For more information check out their website. [3]

What can you do as a tourist visiting Thailand?

Many tourists make the mistake of going to the wrong place and without knowing contribute to practices of animal mistreatment. Institutions are becoming more creative and nowadays it can be hard to distinguish right from wrong. As a result it seems that many tourists have become weary and anxious to go to any wildlife park in Thailand. However, if you are interested in animals there does not need to be any harm in visiting a zoo, farm, park or sanctuary. Make sure that you do in depth research before you visit any of these places. Also do not forget to look at the accreditations of the place you wish to visit. In the picture below are a few more factors to investigate before visiting any wildlife park, zoo or farm.

 

Picture by N. Pundt. Made with https://www.canva.com/ .

For those who feel motivated to take action, here is a list of a few animal wellbeing NGO´s to get you started:
https://www.wfft.org/
https://www.freeland.org/
https://tigers.panda.org/
https://www.wwf.or.th/?referer=wwforg

Sources:

[1] Amranand, P. Warren, W. (1998). The Elephant in Thai Life and Legend. Bangkok: Monsoon Editions.

[2] Elephant Nature Park. (n.d.). Welcome to Elephant Nature Park. Retrieved on October 17, 2021, from
https://www.elephantnaturepark.org/

[3] Friends of Freeland Foundation. (n.d.). Join us. Retrieved on October 20, 2021, from
https://www.freeland.org/work-opportunities.html

[4] Head, J. (November 2016). Thailand tiger farms: Hunting the traffickers. Retrieved on October 19, 2021, from
https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-38030482

[5] Klappenbach, L. (March 2018). Asian Elephant. Retrieved on October 17, 2021, from
http://asianhistory.about.com/od/warsinasia/ss/War-Elephants-in-Asian-History.htm

[6] N.a. (Last edited August 2021). Prevention of Animal Cruelty and Provision of Animal Welfare Act. Retrieved on October 20, 2021, from
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prevention_of_Animal_Cruelty_and_Provision_of_Animal_Welfare_Act

[7] Reizen naar Thailand. (n.d.). Flora & Fauna. Retrieved on October 19, 2021, from
http://www.reizennaarthailand.nl/algemene-informatie/natuur/flora-fauna/

[8] Thai National Parks. (2021). Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park. Retrieved on October 19, 2021, from
https://www.thainationalparks.com/khao-sam-roi-yot-national-park

[9] WAN. (January 2019). Breaking! Tiger Poachers Arrested in Thailand; Authorities Warn More Criminal Gangs are Threatening Endangered Species. Retrieved on October 20, 2021, from
https://worldanimalnews.com/breaking-tiger-poachers-arrested-in-thailand-authorities-warn-more-criminal-gangs-are-threatening-endangered-species/

[10] Wildlife Friends Foundation. (n.d.). Welcome. Retrieved on October 19, 2021, from
https://www.wfft.org/

[11] WWF. (n.d.). Tiger Farms. Retrieved on October 19, 2021, from
https://tigers.panda.org/news_and_stories/stories/tiger_farms/

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