The pandemic has been a hard time for captive animals throughout Thailand. No tourists and limited government funding has meant that many zoos struggled to maintain their animals. In fact, some completely didn't make it. And one of these was Phuket Zoo.
Problems in Phuket
Phuket Zoo has long been the centre of controversy. For years this facility has offered tiger photos, elephant shows, monkey shows and generally kept its animals in poor conditions. It comes as no surprise that the zoo reporting bankruptcy back in December 2020 was actually a blessing in disguise.
But, while many animals were rehomed quickly, the tigers posed a much larger problem - not many facilities could actually accomodate them. Usually too, tigers from such facilities would go to the government Department of National Parks (DNP) facilities, but the pandemic had hit these government-run facilities hard too. With the DNP suffering through massive budget cuts and mounting pressure to look after their own current tigers, where could the Phuket tigers go?
Rescue at last
A year later, in December 2021, the call finally came through that Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand (WFFT) would be able to take the 11 Phuket Zoo tigers and house them in their newly built tiger facilities. Amazingly, this is the first tiger rescue of its kind in Thailand. However, many NGOs and welfare organisations had been concerned regarding the fate of these tigers. With everything taking so long from the moment the zoo declared bankruptcy, to the announced rescue, they seemed fated to stay at the closed zoo forever.
It still wasn’t smooth sailing. WFFT has also been struggling during the pandemic and urgently needed funds to make this move happen. And not only that, but the rescue stalled as the required tiger permits permitting the move and relocation of the tigers came slowly. Finally, at the beginning of February, the first tiger was moved. In the months following, the rest of the tigers have followed, making their way to WFFT.
Wide open spaces and freedom
Our research has taken us to many Thai tiger facilities over the years. For the most part the tigers are always living in substandard living conditions far removed from what they should be.
It was therefore completely refreshing to see the large, spacious enclosures at WFFT when we visited 2 weeks ago. These enclosures have everything a tiger could want - typographic variation, trees, bushes and tall grass for hiding, streams, a lake and more.
All of these features are vital for captive tigers as they allow them to exhibit species-specific behaviour. And already, despite a less than ideal start to that lives, these rescued tigers are showing positive behaviours and signs that they are settling in to their new home well. It’s a delight to behold.
But it doesn't stop
For us here at For Tigers, it just goes to show that it is possible to give many of these tigers the happy ending they deserve.
At this time, we have donated funds to WFFT, covering the costs of four transport cages needed for the move. However, these tigers need lifelong care more enclosures must be built. The work is ongoing - there are more tigers in need of rescue.