From zoos to beer bars, it seems there is always an opportunity to have your photo taken with an animal in Thailand. After stars such as Rihanna posted photos of themselves with a Slow Loris, the use of animal photo props has been a controversial subject in Thailand. But the use of animal photo props has always been a popular practice in Thailand, from hawkers wandering round bars with snakes, to professionally staged sideshows at zoos and tourist attractions.
Much of the controversy stems from concerns about the animals welfare and origin, animal rights campaigners claim animals such as Slow Loris’s are snatched from from their mother in the wild, often resulting in the death of the protective mother. It is also thought that the nocturnal Loris has very sensitive eyes which are easily damaged by bright lights, especially by the use photographic flashlights. Money, not affection, devotion or genuine love of the animal is commonly the only motive hawkers have for owning animals, after the nightly tour of bars and other touristic areas the animals are often returned to inappropriate cages or boxes until it’s time for the next nights tour.
Many of Thailand’s “mini zoos come animal shows” have profited from the appeal of animal photo props, for the tourist it may be a once in a lifetime opportunity to have a photo taken with a baby tiger, for the zoo it’s a quick and easy money earner.
Orangutans share 97 percent of our human DNA, they are extremely clever, and extremely cute, they are actually not comfortable on the ground. But these adorable primates strike some amazingly funny poses on command, and they would even appear to have a sense of humor.
The use of elephants in Thailand’s tourist industry has drawn much debate and controversy, not least because of the much maligned “pajaan” method used to break the elephant and make it pliable for human interaction. For 100 baht you can have your photo taken with an elephant which will strike some commanding poses for your photo.
One famous institution which claimed to be a tiger sanctuary was closed after many claims of illegal trafficking, poor housing, and drugging of the animals to make them compliant with their tourist visitors who wished to have their photo taken with the animals.
The use of animal photo props in Thailand may not be all bad, but it’s not all good. Just because an animal looks cute does not mean it’s happy. Just because an animal will sit next to you and strike funny poses does not mean it’s having fun.