“She’s Gonna Go Jurassic Park On This Place.”

I haven’t been to the zoo in so many years, that I don’t even remember the last time I went to the zoo.  I feel so sorry for the animals, and though it would be exciting to see them, my guilty conscience about being part of the species that keeps them locked up has kept me away.  But a couple of days ago, Alam suggested we visit the Night Safari in Chiang Mai, and we went.  Bad idea.

The Night Safari is basically a zoo (open at night because that is when the animals are naturally awake), where you can view the animals in two ways:  on a walking route through the maze of cages and enclosures, and also on a tram ride through their “habitats”, where you get to see the animals in their natural environments.  Allegedly.  But not actually.

The first thing we saw when we got there was a small room with two – yes two – white tigers in it.  They looked fast asleep, which tells me they were pretty drugged up.  They are big animals, and it was a small room with a glass front, with lots of people standing outside ogling at them.  A simple stick between the door pulls was what was keeping it locked – no match for a white tiger who decides he or she doesn’t want to be cooped up anymore.  For 250 baht (about $8), you could go into their little room and have your picture taken with them, but I just couldn’t do it.  It was awful to see them so listless.  That’s not what a white tiger is supposed to be like.  I couldn’t support that by having my picture taken with them.  It broke my heart.

And as it turned out, my heart was broken over and over again that evening.

We then took the nature walk before our tram ride, where we came upon the enclosure for another white tiger.  Alam told us that the last time he was there, she was pacing back and forth in her enclosure, letting out a deep, loud growl that you could feel in your bones.  He said she clearly wasn’t happy to be there.  She didn’t seem any happier this day – she was still pacing a bit, but at least she wasn’t growling.

We got on the tram ride, and that was where it really started to go downhill for me.  We’re riding through these “natural habitats”, but there was nothing natural about them.  The announcer said things like “this animal usually lives in packs of 20-30” over and over, and yet, there they were in this tiny space with only 1 or 2 other animals of its kind.  What’s natural about that?

They sold food you could feed to some of the animals, so many of them got right up close to the tram, including the giraffes, which stuck their heads in only to get camera flashes in the face.  They are huge, majestic creatures – it wasn’t right to have them living in a space that just wasn’t big enough for them.  I don’t want to give the impression that it was tiny – I mean, they had room to walk around and graze in tall trees, but it just wasn’t enough.

I felt like that with every animal we saw, and the pit in my stomach just got bigger and bigger as we went along.  I felt bad because I knew Alam had been looking forward to it – he doesn’t like the animals are caged, but he does love seeing them – and the frown on my face may have ruined it a bit.  But he had a sense of humour about it.  He told Stu at one point, “Fahrin’s gonna go Jurassic Park on this place – she’ll come back in the middle of the night and let all the animals go.”  Tempting.

The worst part about it was out in the parking lot.  There were two small cages, side by side, with maybe 5 feet between them.  When I say they were small, I mean, they were small.  Maybe 15 feet by 20 feet long.  Sounds big at first, except one held a white tiger and the other held a male and female lion.  Not big enough for these animals.  Not even close.

To say the security was lax is putting it mildly.  Stu stuck his finger easily into the fencing – any child could stick their hand or arm through and have it chomped off.  Any drunk teenager could have scaled that fence and jumped in.

The male lion sat up on a rock, looking huge and beautiful.  We got there at an opportune moment – the female lion and female tiger were pacing the length of the cage, mirroring each other.  All of a sudden, they each let out a roar and started running towards the end where we were standing!  Suffice it to say, EVERYONE jumped back!!  They were clearly trying to get at each other, but since they couldn’t, they just continued to glare at each other and mirror each other’s pace.  It was actually fascinating to see, but I couldn’t watch it for long.

Note here that in the parking lot, we saw our fourth white tiger of the night.  There are only 200 white tigers in the world – they are an endangered species, and are supposed to be protected.  Four of these 200 are in the Chiang Mai night safari.  I don’t consider that protected at all.

It should have been a fun night with Stu and my brother, but it just left me with an upset stomach.

2 responses to this post.

  1. A lot is said about a culture by how they (we) treat our animals. Unfortunately as a species we are lacking.

    Reply

  2. Posted by Brian on January 20, 2011 at 9:35 am

    Makes the Toronto Zoo look like shangri la. One thing though FK, the tigers you saw in the parking lot in the small cage, a tiger is a very strong and vicious animal. Most animal handlers put them in small cages on purpose for transport. If a tiger had a huge cage to move around in, it would smash its way through and eat you alive. It’s cruel, but safe for everyone.

    Reply

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