Daniel T. Cross, Sustainability Times | May 5, 2021
Among the many ravages of the Covid-19 pandemic have been financial hardships for numerous conservation projects worldwide. As tourists have stopped coming, ecotourism initiatives whose proceeds helped fund wildlife conservation have been feeling the pinch from Africa to Southeast Asia.
Then again, for many abused and exploited animals a lack of tourists has positively been a blessing. Cases in point are so-called tiger zoos and other tourist-oriented venues in countries like Thailand where “exotic” animals were put on display so visitors could pose for pictures with them for a fee.
Many of these exploitative venues have fallen on hard times too. In fact, some of them have been forced to close down for good, including a notorious tiger zoo in Thailand.
The Sriracha Tiger Zoo, located in a Thai seaside resort town, first opened its doors in 1997 and soon became a must for many foreign tourists to the Southeast Asian nation, offering visitors as it did a chance to feed cubs from milk bottles and take pictures with somnolent adult tigers.
Now, after nearly a half century of lucrative operation, the establishment’s management has announced that the zoo will close down permanently.
Although many visitors to the Sriracha Tiger Zoo, which featured not only tigers but various other animals as well for the benefit of tourists, wrote glowing reviews of their experiences on online platforms like Tripadvisor, many others were less impressed by what they saw.
Some visitors even had cause to suspect (not unreasonably) that the zoo doubled as a tiger farm where at least some of the predators were bred for their body parts for use in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
“[I] visited after a tip-off from a friend who said the zoo was under investigation for farming tigers for the illegal tiger bone wine trade,” one tourist from London, England, wrote of her impressions after a visit in 2019.
“If you walk around the back of the main tourist cages you will see squalid more commercial cages where tigers are held before being exported for tiger bone wine. This is animal cruelty at its worst,” she stressed.
Other foreign tourists concurred, with one of them calling a visit to the Sriracha Tiger Zoo “a thoroughly depressing experience.”
“First we came to the tigers. The smaller ones were in tiny cages, running in circles and pushing their faces up against the metal. The bigger ones were clearly malnourished and drugged; they were chained to the ground and hit by the staff to encourage them to perform for the amusement of tourists,” the commenter wrote on Tripadvisor.
“There was one tiger that had pictures taken with visitors. This animal was clearly too tired to move, and was directed with a stick via a worker,” he explained.
“Then came the pig race, which speaks for itself. A bunch of pigs have a race as people watch on in bottom-of-the-barrel amusement,” the commenter added.