WITNESSING THE EFFECTS OF COVID AT SAMUTPRAKARN
In September we visited Samutprakan Crocodile Farm and Zoo on the outskirts of Bangkok. This facility is primarily a crocodile farm, harvesting crocodiles for their skin but has a large variety of other animals including tigers, elephants, chimpanzees and orangutans. Prior to COVID-19, busloads of tourist visited Samutprakan Crocodile Farm and Zoo mainly to see the crocodile and elephant shows.
This facility has always scored very low in our annual welfare assessments. With COVID-19 reducing the number of tourists arriving in Thailand and visiting such facilities, investigating how this may have affected such a facility was very important.
On our latest visit, there was a visible decline in welfare standards even though standards in previous years were already very low. Though we only complete our welfare assessment based on tigers, we noticed several overall concerning changes. the grounds of the zoo were very poorly maintained, with over-grown areas (possibly indicating that fewer staff are currently employed). Whilst there was no elephant show, the elephants (and other animals), were fed old cabbage, an inappropriate diet. As a further example, the pot-bellied pigs were so thin their ribs showed, and they had no food in their pens. However, our main investigation focused on the tigers.
Similar to other years, there were a lot of sub-adult tigers. Despite this continuing trend, the number of tigers at this facility do not appear to grow. A concern here though, is also the large number of colour variants being bred. We saw six golden tigers, compared to five last year. There was one white tiger observed this year and last year, and finally two snow tigers compared to three last year. All the coloured tigers observed this year were young, around 12-18 months old indicating continued breeding. The concern with these colour variants is that they are the result of inbreeding (see our latest report for more on this issue).
A change from previous years is that the tigers were, for the most part, slightly underweight. This is in stark contrast to previous years where we marked the facility down for having overweight tigers. The tigers that appear to be on the thin side are in smaller living spaces, with no ability to exercise. Their current body condition suggests that they are not being fed enough, which is possibly a direct result of COVID-19 and the lack of tourists present.
This facility has a wide range of enclosure types. There are 6 large tiger enclosures that provide larger amounts of space and a variety of substrates. Three of these enclosures even have large moats for swimming. However, most of the tigers live in barren concrete-floored cages without any enrichment. One of these cages is also located near to the crocodile arena where daily shows are performed subjecting the tigers to loud noise from these events. In addition to this, some tigers are hidden away in cages blocked off by tarpaulin. The disparity between the enclosures is shocking raising the question, how can the management allow a majority of the tigers to live in such poor conditions?
The provision of insufficient food appears to be increasingly common in facilities throughout Thailand this year, across a range of species. Without tourists, many facilities lack income resulting in the animals suffering. However, whilst we are aware of the negative impact loss of ticket sales can have, we know that Samutprakan Crocodile Farm and Zoo have another source of income from their crocodile farm business and should be able to provide adequate food. Furthermore, this facility also scored poorly on our welfare assessment due to the lack of clean water provided. In one cage, tigers were licking the damp floor of their enclosure as there was no water in a water bowl. Water is a basic necessity and should be the very minimum provided.
On previous visits there was an adult tiger, Kai Kim, kept on a short chain for photo opportunities. This year however, he was absent from his usual spot. When we enquired, we were told that he had retired, though it is unclear whether this is permanent or simply a result of no tourists. He was not seen however, and instead a young white tiger cub was seen in his usual cage, indicating he has possible passed away – on previous visits staff stated he was 19 years old. On previous visits there were also tiger cubs for tourist interactions, but there were none on this visit. This meant no tiger interactions at all, which is a good thing. However, it is probable that this is due only to the reduced numbers of tourists rather than a change in operations. This was illustrated in the fact that tourists could still selfies with a gibbon, chimpanzees and an orangutan as in previous years.
This facility has repeatedly scored very low in our welfare assessments indicating that it needs to dramatically improve. This year, the facility scored lower than usual despite the lack of tourist-tiger interactions, a possible result of the effects of COVID-19. We expect to see other facilities with lower than normal scores as we continue visiting facilities around Thailand.