Thailand has been marketed around the world as a place where couples and families can relax on golden beaches, explore lush jungle, and meet exotic animals on the way.
Tourists return brandishing smartphone snaps of elephant rides, visits to a tiger temple and close-up encounters with curious monkeys and colourful sea life.
What the advertising videos do not show is that the booming tourist trade has had a serious impact on the welfare of Thailand’s wildlife.
In January, when a Scottish tourist was killed in front of his daughter by a bull elephant, conservationists said that the tragedy could have been prevented if the elephant had been treated with sufficient care and respect.
Here are four activities animal conservationists advise against when travelling in Thailand:
l Do not ride elephants:
Who wouldn’t want to take a picture on top of an elephant? It would undoubtedly fetch a plethora of likes on Facebook and be the envy of friends and family.
But, increasingly, conservationists are warning tourists that taking part in elephant rides is encouraging a trade that is as dangerous as it is destructive.
Between June last year and February this year at least four people, including the Scot, were killed on elephant tours by out-of-control pachyderms.
“These events have only caught the public eye because a Scottish person was killed,” said Sangduen Chailert, founder of the Save Elephant Foundation in Thailand.
“For people who are familiar with the elephants tours, these events happen regularly because the elephants get stressed out from overwork and poor working conditions.” Sangduen says that to fix the situation, better animal welfare laws are needed.
Edwin Wiek, founder of the Wildlife Friends Foundation of Thailand (WFFT), argues that male elephants should not be used at all for rides because when they are in musth – a periodic rise in aggression and testosterone – they can be uncontrollable. Asian elephants are an endangered species in Thailand with less than 5 000 left in the wild, according to animal trade watchdog TRAFFIC.
“Wild live elephants are being illegally captured to supply the lucrative tourism industry in Thailand and urgent changes are needed to stop the trafficking,” the organisation said in a statement.
l Do not take photos with or buy a slow loris:
With their giant eyes, their fuzzy exterior and quiet presence, people the world over have fallen in love with the slow loris. Even pop star Rihanna couldn’t help but take a selfie with a loris while she was visiting Thailand. But slow lorises are listed in Cites (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) Appendix I, meaning they are threatened with extinction and their trade is prohibited.
“You cannot have a loris without a permit and you cannot use the animals to sell for tourist selfies and play dates,” said Roger Lohanan, the head of the Thai Animal Guardians Association.
l Don’t touch coral reefs:
While Thailand attracts sea-loving visitors to its beaches and dive sites, scientists say that the country has lost 50 percent of its coral reefs since 2000.
“Coral bleaching has been a problem in Thailand but it is made worse by tourism and human activity,” said Suchana Chavanich, a professor of marine biology at Chulalongkorn University.
When the divers stand on or touch the coral it punctures the animal’s thin and fragile outer cover, which in turn can lead to small infections.
l Do not go to the Tiger Temple:
The images of monks walking alongside unchained tigers may evoke a strong sense of curiosity and oriental mysticism but do not be fooled into visiting the Tiger Temple. A National Geographic exposé in January accused the temple in western Thailand of supplying the black market with tiger parts, echoing long-standing claims of local conservationists.
While the temple claims that it is helping conserve an endangered species, activists accuse the temple of profiteering and damaging its tiger population through unchecked breeding and inbreeding.
“Taking selfies with tigers does nothing to contribute to the conservation of wildlife,” said Wiek. “The Tiger Temple illegally trades wildlife and breeds only for exploitation.
“Eighty percent of their tigers never get out of their tiny dark cages,” he said.
Source – iol