Open Zoo & Safari Park
Despite being just down the road in Kanchanaburi from the Tiger Temple, the Safari Park has managed to remain relatively unknown to the International community. This is somewhat surprising seeing as it adopts many of the same practices as the Temple, and also many far worse. There are a range of animals there including lions, leopards, tigers, giraffes and zebras with varying levels of welfare throughout the park.
2nd Visit: 12th Aug 2015
4th Visit: 15th April 2018
1st: 30th May 2013
3rd Visit: 3rd March 2017
First Visit: 30th May 2013
One of our researchers visited the safari during this time. However, it was a general visit with no counting of tigers and just a general overview of the situation. Therefore, the observations noted in the second visit are much more meaningful - the same researcher has visited in all three of the subsequent visits.
Safari Zone - four tigers in the enclosure with grass, natural vegetation, platform and ponds. Tigers appeared to be relaxed.
Cub Zone - at the front of the park, young leopards were in small pens for tourists to get photos.
Big Tiger photo - an adult tiger, Blue, was chained to a wooden platform for the day so that tourists could get photos with him.
Second Visit: 12th August 2015
Two years on from one of our researchers initial visit and a lot had vastly improved. Much however had not, and the apparent trading of the big cats to other facilities within the country, was reported to be ongoing.
For the majority of the tigers, their lives are relatively pleasant. As with most places in Thailand, they start their lives being tourist props, bottle fed and played with by tourists. If they are lucky they then will migrate to the Safari zones. These are large spacious enclosures full of natural environment, ponds, trees, grass hiding places etc, and are pretty impressive. However, the adult tigers are only out in this area four tigers at a time and on rotation. It is unclear what this rotation is, if it really exists at all.
Around the back are the night cages (or day cages for some). These are the standard 4x4m, with no enrichment or platforms to speak of and all consist of concrete flooring. Water is provided to all tigers in all areas. Some of the tigers here do not go out into the Safari Zone but are confined here indefinitely. One of the tigers, a female, is highly emaciated and never leaves. Breeding also takes place here. Heng Heng, a very cross-eyed male appears to be the main father. He was out in a small, barren concrete are, adjoining the other cages, reminiscent of a prison yard. He did appear to be very people-friendly but would not stop pacing.
Blue - the photo prop tiger - was still out on the platform for photos. He was not out all day but during the busiest hours. He resides in a small set of cages by himself, away from any other tigers and near to the giraffe and zebra housing. Originally he only had the indoor cage area but has recently had an outdoor extension put in, though this is still concrete-floored.
Near him at the front are three pens containing big cat cubs of various species. On this visit there was one tiger cub living with some lion cubs. Tourists can enter and play with them for an added cost.
A positive note for the park however, is that there is a dedicated team of volunteers who have strived to make the improvements that is now being seen. More enrichment and better healthcare for the tigers are just two of the changes that have been gradually implemented, however the practice of declawing all the cats has not been stopped, but every little helps and here in Thailand things do go slow. One of the big changes was the arrival of the Big Cat Garden, where sub-adult cubs can now go to roam a small enclosure complete with platforms and numerous toys. Visitors can enter and play with the cubs in a much less restrictive environment. It also helps in the transition for these cubs as they later head on to the Safari Zone.
Our researchers were happy to see some positive changes and hope these volunteers can continue forward.
Third Visit: 3rd March 2017
The Safari Zone, Big Cat Garden and Cub Photo areas are all still very much present. However, the big tiger photo with the tiger Blue, is now ended and no other big cat has taken his place meaning. While tourists can still get photos with tigers and other big cats, none of them are restrained. Blue now lives permanently in his small cage, which now has a pond - still no interaction with con-specifics and minimal enrichment. He remains very friendly with humans.
Small cubs to sub-adults are still kept in mixed species grouping and the younger ones can be bottle fed by tourists in the pens at the front. Cubs display a lack of fear towards people both staff and tourists and are generally playful and friendly. This is the same in the Big Cat Garden area where they have more space to roam and the improvement of having a large pond added to this enclosure. There was still a lot of enrichment items though less than the year before.
The Safari Zone remains the same. There is no permanent enrichment within the area, however the volunteers do run a consistent enrichment programme in the mornings before tourists arrive. This involves creating various tactile and sensory items thrown in to the areas. Again, there only appeared to be a few tigers in the area - other tigers could be seen pacing back and forth in their cages at the back. Tigers were disinterested in the vehicles, generally sleeping or, ins some cases, pacing.
Volunteers report that new enclosures are to be built and potentially a retirement and/or breeding area created. Trade in big cats of varying species appears to be ongoing.
Fourth Visit: 15th April 2018
Safari Zone, Big Cat Garden and Cub Zones were all much the same. There were more cubs in the Cub Zone and the areas had expanded. Each had some enrichment. The Big Cat Garden has declined somewhat with still less enrichment than before. Cubs in here appear to be suffering from various health issues with a female lion cub displaying an inability to walk properly. The Safari Zone is now overcrowded with 12 tigers out in the one area at the same time.
One of these was Blue who has finally been moved to the back area with his own species and now has access to this larger area - a happy ending to his tale. One younger tiger, recently moved from the Big Cat Garden displayed aggression and fear when the Safari bus and other vehicles came near.
A new feeding programme appears to have been implemented where tourists can feed the tigers from the outside of the enclosure. This involves using pieces of meat on sticks to encourage the tigers to stand on their hind legs. While this is good enrichment, the number of tigers clamouring at the fence for these treats was disturbing and it appears the tigers are kept hungry in order to want these treats. Many were pacing, though this could also be that the tiger enclosure is right next to an enclosure full of deer, thus creating a stressful environment.
The welfare situation here is going downhill once more.
How Many Tigers?
Each cage was 4x4m
Each was barren - concrete floor, no platform or enrichment
Most cages held one tiger
One large safari zone
The enclosure contains grass, trees, a large pond, shade and platforms
Tigers may or may not be on rotation with the last visit showing 12 tigers in the one safari area - could be deemed as over-crowding
Physical & Mental Health
All the tigers were clearly severely inbred
Cross eyes in particular was noted
Tigers are all declawed
Inter-species living conditions for younger cubs (tigers, lions and leopards)
A number of medical issues observed in the cubs - does not appear to be good medical care
Body condition is adequate
All tigers seemed well adjusted to people, none were scared or aggressive bar one in the safari zone
Pacing noted for a number of tigers both in and out of safari zone
What we are doing to help
At this time we are raising awareness for the situation of the captive tigers in Thailand through education of the public and through a number of different petitions.
Head to our Petition zone to see how you can help.