VEGA News Item

Hell is on the 7th Floor - 16/09/2010

Wild Animals Kept in Cramped and Filthy Conditions in a Bangkok Department Store

1.  “Thailand, like much of south-east Asia, faces myriad animal welfare problems: cockfighting remains popular, elephants are still put to work in the traffic-choked streets of Bangkok and the city remains a hub for smuggling animals. Last month a sedated tiger cub was found in a bag at Suvarnabhumi Airport disguised among soft animal toys,” reports The Guardian (11 September 2010). “Bat Pata Zoo reflects the fundamental problems: a lack of legislation regarding animal welfare. The zoo is breaking no laws. The animals were all obtained legally and the zoo’s licence was recently extended,” the report continues, adding that,“the staff do not like the animals being filmed or photographed.”

2.  Kamit Sermsirimongkol, director of the premises states: “It’s not about space, it’s about the way in which you treat the animals. The space that we provide to the animals is enough for them to freely move around and to exercise. The zoo has a vet to take care of the animals and we have many species of animals successfully breeding, which shows the animals are healthy and well-managed.” Earlier this year Thailand’s ministry of natural resources and environment declared its support in principle for a universal declaration on animal welfare. A draft act on the prevention of cruelty to animals has been written, but in Thailand’s current unstable political climate the legislation is unlikely to be passed.

3.  “There is an animal welfare law but it is very simple, very ineffective and is rarely enforced,” states Edwin Wiek, director of the Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand. “It says only that if you torture an animal, you can be fined,” but no more than a derisory 1000 baht (£20). Pata Zoo is nearly 30 years old and unattractive: in a 3-hour visit a Guardian reporter counted “barely 20 visitors.” The lunchtime “performance” featured primates who lift weights, ride bicycles and fight with knives and drew an audience of a dozen people in an auditorium originally built for several hundred. Across a narrow corridor from a gorilla called King Kong, two orang-utans were sharing “a sparse enclosure, concreted on all sides.” It lacked any sort of greenery.

4.  The ground floor of the Pata department store has cheap clothing: polyester slacks for 200 baht (£4.20) and polo shirts at half that price. Higher up is the electronics department: fake Rolexes and cheap TVs. King Kong, the gorilla, on the 7th floor. There are no trees in his 15 x 10 metres concrete enclosure, just a tyre and a few ropes hanging from the low ceiling. King Kong “moves little, spending long hours sitting at the front of his pen, gripping the iron bars. Ten metres away is a lone penguin in an air-conditioned pen, next to a pool of water that is smaller than a bath and nowhere deep enough to swim in. A few years ago there were a dozen penguins but only this one survives,” reports The Guardian.

5.  Edwin Wiek wants the zoo closed. “Basically it is an animal prison on top of a shopping mall. The space is too small, the animals have very little room, there is very little sunlight, the enclosures are dirty, they smell bad and people are coming past all day, getting far too close to the animals, which makes the animals extremely stressed. In 200 steps you can see 50 different species. Most people know that this is not an acceptable way to keep animals. It is a hell for animals states Edwin Wiek.

6.  In the U.K. the Animal Welfare Act 2006 would provide protection for animals confined in conditions such as these, but we have to admit that zoos and pet shops in any context pose queries for animal welfarists. However, in these artificial conditions and in the absence of many of the “natural” predators the occupants living out lives of squalor in deplorable conditions may actually exist longer than their kind kept cramped in cages, pens and other confinements to satisfy the dubious curiosity of human viewers.

7.  In the treatment of animals on farms, slaughterhouses and labs our species displays appalling cruelties and neglect. As tourists to these countries and uncomplaining spectators, we need to examine our own consciences and connivance back home in a less uncongenial land, but one with a welcoming kindness for a general wellbeing. Britain has earned some respect for its (flawed) love of (for) animals, even when they are served up cooked, grilled, roasted, or fried or raw for depraved appetites. However; a nation openly conceding hypocrisy can still proclaim advances in standards and worthier example and care.

8.  “Years ago there was a second indoor zoo in Bangkok but the animals died in the fire,” said Roger Lohanan, chairman of Thailand’s Animal Guardian Association. “Pata is an old building, if the zoo caught fire those animals would die.” He adds “we are moved by these distressing examples of unrelenting cruelties in Thailand and in many other countries to recall the work done by Nina Hosali, a graduate of London University and member of the Nature Cure Clinic’s Council in the 1930s and post WW2, who tended the fallen and overworked animals, mostly equines, in North Africa. She was much involved in SPANA (Society for Protection of Animals in North Africa) and the Brooke Hospital in Egypt. Nina was a practical, campaigning veggie, whose efforts and example counted nobly without needing augmentation in terms of footprints, zoo checks, circuses and petting farms, valuable as all these inspirations for reforms are becoming.


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