Monday, February 20, 2006

Thailand uses illegally imported Indonesian orangutans for Chiang Mai Night Safari

Thailand treats animals very poorly. This is a fact that even the most casual visitor to any of the nation's neighborhoods or zoos could not fail to notice. Dusit Zoo, the national zoo in Bangkok, is one of the worst animal ghettos I have ever seen. The animals there are in universally bad shape, kept in inadequate enclosures and subjected to various forms of wanton cruelty and neglect. The image at left shows some of the debris vistors are allowed to pelt the animals with at the Dusit Zoo in Bangkok. The pens are littered with coins, candy wrappers, rocks, and the like.

Against this background of zoo mismanagement, the Chiang Mai Night Safari opened to widespread skepticism on the part of animal rights activists and quickly proved their worst fears well-grounded. Although plans to serve meals featuring endangered species at the zoo restaurant have been shelved, there have been reports of widespread maltreatment of animals not destined for the dinner table.

Another issue is the "stolen orangutans" being kept there. These animals were illegally captured and exported from Indonesia. When they were seized in Thailand several years ago, the Thai government agreed to return them to Indonesia. This has not happened, though extensive preparations on teh Indo side were made for their return.

Meanwhile, these orangutans went on a 'zoo tour' of Thailand and have now turned up at the government sponsored Chiang Mai Night Safari. The Thai government refuses to respond to Indonesia's requests to have the surviving animals returned.

Frankly, the mistreatment of animals in Thailand is not just a governmental issue but stems from the mentality of the people themselves. I have rarely seen a dog petted in Thailand, only taunted and kicked. The myth of the 'gentle buddhists' begins to implode when you've spent a little time here. Most Thais are anamist and superstitious but hardly Buddhist at all. One goes to temple not to learn about or internalize Buddhist teachings (such as the correct treatment of animals) but to chuck a few coins in the till and wish for 'good luck'. The idea that Thailand is a Buddhist country is a huge 'guidebook lie'.

From a letter to The Nation:

I wish to express my anger about the way Thailand is dealing with the confiscated orang-utans held at the Safari World zoo.

These orang-utans should have been returned to Indonesia two years ago, but they have become the victims of political power games and greed. Thailand has no right to keep these orang-utans. They are highly endangered primates, and all international agreements state that these orang-utans should be returned to Indonesia. This case gives Thailand a very bad name, which is so unnecessary. Protests worldwide are being organised to demand the release of these primates. Why are they still being kept inside the country, and why do letters remain unanswered?

Internationally, governments should cooperate to end the illegal wildlife trade, and returning these orang-utans to the rain forests in Indonesia would be the first step Thailand should take right now.

Femke den Haas

Director, ProAnimalia International