Phuket Governor Phakaphong Tavipatana ordered inspection in response to National Geographic posting on its official Instagram account a photo of a tiger chained on a podium, pacing back and forth in only metres of space. (See here.)
The National Geographic post on Instagram, without alleging that Phuket Zoo had conducted the practice, also noted, “Tigers are often declawed and/or drugged to make them safer for interacting with tourists.”
The post, which has already gained more than 1 million Likes (see here), also noted in direct reference to Phuket Zoo, “Photos here are 300 Baht (or about $9).”
Conducting the inspection today were Natawon Jumlonggard, Chief of the Phuket office of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MNRE); Manas Thepparuk, Chief of the Phuket Provincial Office of the Department of Livestock Development (DLD); and Pongchart Chouehorm, Chief of the Natural and Wildlife Education Centre at the Khao Phra Thaew Non-Hunting Area in Thalang.
After the inspection, Mr Natawon declared to the press, “No evidence of animal cruelty has been found.”
“Officers from the Department of National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conversation (DNP) inspected the zoo, given advice about how to treat animals, and cautioned the owner to do things correctly and make a good image of Phuket for tourists,” Mr Natawon said.
“The zoo’s owner agreed and said he understood,” he added.
Regarding complaints of animals being medicated so that they would be placid enough for tourists to have their photos taken with them, Mr Natawon said, “Animals that have been medicated are sleepy, drowsy, the animals here show no such effects. They are not likely to have been medicated.”
Regarding wild animals being chained to tight restrictions Mr Natawon said his officers wanted to focus on safety.
“The province’s governing officers are aware of such issues and have spoken with staff at the zoo to strictly focus on the best care of all animals in terms of both safety measures and hygiene,” he said.
“In the past, there have been continual reports of animal cruelty with people taking photos and (video) recordings of animals, but depending on the individual’s perspective it may or may not be regarded as animal cruelty,” Mr Natawon said.
“From the examining of the actual conditions here, we have found no evidence of animal cruelty here. The results of the inspection is that there are no sick or drowsy animals,” he said.
Phuket Zoo today being cleared of allegations of animal cruelty follows the zoo being exonerated of any ill treatment of three-year-old baby elephant Jumbo dying from a digestive tract infection just last month despite an international campaign calling for him to be taken into care for better protection.
Jumbo was so weak that he collapsed under his own weight and broke both his back legs while trying to lift himself free from mud in a special area created for him where he could recover, Zoo Manager Pichai Sakunsorn told The Phuket News in explaining what had led to Jumbo’s death. (See story here.)
Zoo Manager Mr Pichai today told the press that the zoo could not ban tourists from taking photos with animals, as that was one of the zoo’s key attractions. The zoo’s main revenue streams were charging for entry tickets, selling food to tourists to use to feed the animals, and charging tourists to have their photos taken with the animlas, he explained.
However, he said the facility’s owners were reviewing whether they will continue the practice of allowing tourists to have their photos taken with specific animals.
“Most of the customers who come here want to take pictures with various animals. Those who like to take pictures with animals, mostly do not consider chaining them as cruel, but instead as a safety measure for tourists, especially tigers, because tigers are untrustworthy, unstable, and unpredictable,” he said.
“It is a way to prevent the animal from hurting tourists. The animal can breath properly and it does not harm them,” he said.
“As for drugging the animals, we can confirm that we never do that because the owner created this zoo out of love for animals,” Mr Pichai added.
Mr Pichai said that the zoo had not had a single safety incident in its 30 years of operation, and that each animal was considered as asset of value, and hence any harm done to the animals directly contradicted the ide of the zoo making money from them.
He also pointed out that every zoo was reuired to observe strict conditions in keeping animals, especially tigers.
“The conditions for keeping tigers need to be carefully observed. DNA records are kept and they have identification microchips, and no tigers caught in the wild go on show as they cannot be kept safely in a zoo,” he said.
“Currently, this zoo has 15 tigers, all of which have been bred in captivity and were acquired through exchanges with other zoos throughout the country,” Mr Pichai said.
“Also, the Zoological Park Organization of Thailand (see here) mandates that all animals are to be well cared for and that the origins of each animal can be clearly shown,” he added.
“The zoo is open to receive visitors and explain to them if people do not understand about animal care, and we are also conducting talks about launching field trips to people can see animals in the wild too,” Mr Pichai said.