8 min read

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.

Macaque monkey forced to ride bike at Thailand safari park
A chained macaque forced to ride a bike at Phuket Safari Eco+ | Aaron Gekoski

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.

Macaque monkey lifting a weight
A macaque being forced to lift a weight for the audience | Aaron Gekoski

“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.”

Macaque holding up a number
A macaque holding up a number during a performance | Aaron Gekoski

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.

Macaque monkeys locked up in cages
The backstage area where the macaques are kept between shows | Aaron Gekoski

“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.

Macaque monkeys crammed inside a metal cage
Caged macaques on display at Phuket Safari Eco+ | Aaron Gekoski

“[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.”

Baby macaque drinking out of plastic cup
A baby macaque drinking from a plastic cup | Aaron Gekoski

“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.”

Macaque monkeys stuck inside small cages
Aaron Gekoski

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.

Young elephant performing at Thailand safari park
An elephant performing at Phuket Safari Eco+ | Aaron Gekoski

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.

Elephants taking people for rides
An elephant taking a tourist for a ride at Phuket Safari Eco+ | Aaron Gekoski

“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.”

Elephants chained up alongside road
Elephants chained up beside the road at Phuket Safari Eco+ | Aaron Gekoski

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.

A snake performance at Thailand park
A snake performance at Phuket Safari Eco+ | Aaron Gekoski

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.

People stabbing crocodile at Thailand park
Handlers jabbing a crocodile during a performance at a Thailand park | Aaron Gekoski

“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.”

Orangutans being forced to box each other
Orangutans being forced to box each other at a park in Bangkok, Thailand | Aaron Gekoski

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.

Orangutan forced to box
Aaron Gekoski

“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.”

Tiger cubs kept inside tiny cages
Tiger cubs kept inside tiny cages at another Thailand park | Aaron Gekoski

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.”

Macaque monkey performing at Thailand park
A macaque performing at Phuket Safari Eco+ | Aaron Gekoski

“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.”

To help animals who have been rescued from abuse in Thailand, you can make a donation to WFFT. You can also support efforts to document animal abuse and exploitation in Southeast Asia by making a donation to Gekoski’s photography work.