Sad Photo Shows Where Performing Monkeys Are Kept Between Acts
If you want to help them, never buy a ticket.
A crowd gathered around a stage area inside a metal pavilion. Music blared from a sound system, while trainers wearing green T-shirts entered, holding onto the chains of tethered macaque monkeys. Then the trainers yanked the macaques’ chains to make the animals perform tricks, such as riding a tricycle and lifting weights.
In February, wildlife photographer Aaron Gekoski visited this roadside safari park in Phuket, Thailand, where macaques and other animals are forced to perform for paying guests. The place is called Phuket Safari Eco+, and Gekoski went to investigate it after reading bad reviews on TripAdvisor, many of which accused the facility of animal abuse and exploitation.
“When I was there, it was quite busy, mainly with Russian and Chinese tourists,” Gekoski told The Dodo. “Remarkably, given the state of the place and treatment of the animals, some people even seemed to be enjoying the shows.”
Macaques perform throughout the day at Phuket Safari Eco+, Gekoski explained. And when they aren’t performing, they’re kept in tiny metal cages in a backstage area. The cages don’t have food, water or any enrichment activities for the animals.
“I managed to grab a quick photo backstage before being ushered away,” Gekoski said. “The holding area was filthy and full of old appliances.”
While this backstage area was technically out of public view, there was another part of the park where macaques were openly displayed in cages, which Gekoski found even more disturbing.
“[There was] a metal container with four baby macaques attached to tiny chains,” Gekoski said. “Tourists would come and take photos of, or with, them. The monkeys were drinking out of plastic containers and were clearly very unhappy.”
“These animals can cover large distances in the wild and are very sociable, living in large troops,” Gekoski added. “So to see them stuck in tiny cages alone like this wasn’t nice.”
Macaques weren’t the only animals being exploited at this safari park. Gekoski also saw elephants taking tourists for rides on their backs, and young elephants being forced to perform tricks inside a tiny room.
To make elephants do these kinds of things, they have to go through a horrific training process called a “crush,” in which people beat the elephants with bullhooks and whips to “crush their spirits” until they learn to obey.
“Many animals are beaten and mistreated and have their spirits broken by handlers, rendering them completely submissive,” Gekoski said. “Yet most tourists aren’t aware of the abuse that takes place or how poor the quality of life is for many captive animals.”
The park also featured snake performances, and what Gekoski described as a “post-apocalyptic mini-zoo” containing sheep and other domestic animals. “The enclosure was filthy and surrounded by trash,” he said.
Phuket Safari Eco+ did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Unfortunately, these kinds of parks and zoos are pervasive throughout Thailand and other countries in Asia, and many of them both obtain their animals and operate illegally, Tom Taylor, general manager of Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand (WFFT), told The Dodo.
“Many of the animals you have seen will have been illegally smuggled into the country or illegally poached from the wild,” Taylor said. “This is very common with animals such as orangutans and gibbons. Some are also bred in captivity but it’s often faster and more cost-effective to purchase them from illegal wildlife traders.”
In 2014, Thailand instated its first animal welfare law, which technically protects animals against this kind of cruelty, but the law isn’t always enforced, according to Taylor.
“This law is a step in the right direction but it still has a lot of room for improvements,” Taylor said. “WFFT has campaigned for years against the use of animals in entertainment; we have rescued hundreds of animals from such places. This is usually only possible of the animals have been handed over to us by the owner or if they have been confiscated by the authorities.”
Dave Neale, animal welfare director at Animals Asia, referred to Phuket Safari Eco+ and similar facilities as “nothing more than money-making enterprises that do not have the welfare of their animals at heart.”
“Just one glimpse of this facility’s listing on TripAdvisor will uncover countless negative reviews by visitors, some of which likened the facility to an ‘animal prison’ or ‘mental asylum,’ where exhausted and despondent elephants are beaten with sticks and bullhooks and forced to give rides to guests; where monkeys are stressed from confinement and unable to walk for more than two steps due to being chained,” Neale told The Dodo. “No legitimate tour operator should be booking tours to such facilities for their clients and no guests should patronize these enterprises where cruelty is for sale.”