With effects of COVID-19 being felt around the world, a spotlight has been shone over recent days on Phuket Zoo. The zoo itself has been closed since March 28th, after all animal tourism attractions were ordered to close by the Thai government. With recent reports again highlighting the zoo’s failings due to the mistreatment of its animals, it’s important to separate facts from opinions.
Today (17th April 2020), a team of government officials of the Department of National Parks, Forestry Police, Livestock Department and local municipality jointly checked on the zoo, although no animal welfare experts or independent observers were invited for this check.
In recent days, uninvited tourists entered the closed zoo, posting a video online that shows the apparent abandonment of the animals. One of the major talking points raised from this video was the well-being and living conditions of tigers at Phuket Zoo. It’s important to note, that the zoo has had long standing issues with the welfare of its animals. Malnourished and neglected animals were a common site across the zoo. Clear signs of distress were present in many species across the facility, with a simple search online producing elephants showing signs of stereotypical behaviours such as swaying in a repetitive motion.
For Tigers has made yearly visits to the facility since 2016, highlighting the issues that the tigers are facing. These include a complete lack of enrichment available, concrete flooring both within their cages and enclosures, and no visible grass or natural vegetation being present in the majority of living spaces - there are some enclosures with more natural substrates that were found on later visits. However, more recently, a large, completely concrete area designated for chained cubs interacting with guests has been added.
For Tigers does not judge those who are trying to make a difference in helping these animals, but we strongly advise against donating to fundraisers online that have no connection to Phuket Zoo or to charitable organisations who are actively working within the area. Reaching out to organisations such as ourselves and others for help is advised to help making a lasting change and to change the fortunes of the affected animals. The worst-case scenario (barring the fundraisers running off with the money) sees money being spent on food that is inadequate or dangerous, and that ultimately won’t be used to feed the animals in questions. Another issue with individual fundraisers is that in many cases there is a lack of local knowledge and contacts which are needed to purchase the correct nutrition as the right price. This means many kind-hearted people fall prey to exorbitant prices and the funds raised do not go as far.
A point we would like to stress regarding fundraisers such as those mentioned is that they quite often talk about "rescuing" and relocating animals. Whilst the thought is a nice one, in practice it is rarely a feasible option, especially as there aren't many high welfare standard facilities available to take over large amounts of animals. The case of the tiger temple tigers serves as a reminder that a rescue may not have a positive outcome. This is one of the main reasons why For Tigers try to help animals where they are, by providing not only help in the form of food and materials, but also in the form of education for staff and owners.
With the closure of zoos and animal facilities globally, the future of many animals is very much up in there air right now. For Tigers will continue to follow this situation and will provide updates as soon as we know more.