By Mikey Jones
An investigation has led to the discovery of appalling conditions of exploited animals for tourism in Europe.
Whilst wildlife tourism in Asia has been widely reporter, the ruthless abuse of wild animals in Europe has remained widely unreported.
These images have been taken at tourist attractions in Germany, Spain, France and the Czech Republic which show elephants, tigers, wolves and bears being forced to perform tricks, have close interactions with visitors as well as being made to chase paying customers.
As part of an investigation run by ‘FOUR PAWS’, photographer Aaron Gekoski and filmmaker Will Foster-Grundy, the team have discovered that profitable tourism through torturing animals is not just happening in Asia but is vibrant right on the UK’s doorstep.
International Head of Wild Animal Campaigns at FOUR PAWS, Kieran Harkin, said: “We were shocked to uncover such attractions throughout Europe.
“Not only are the animals forced to perform, but they are kept in shocking conditions between their shows.
“Tourists are paying to witness bears riding bikes, to walking with a tiger on a leash, watch an elephant carry a trainer on its trunk and even ride on an elephants back, all in the pursuit of ‘entertainment’.
“Furthermore, these ruthless tourist attractions are not only examples of animal cruelty, but they also fuel unregulated commercial breeding which can contribute to illegal wildlife trades.
“Even for the small percentage that might be aware of the existence of these types of shows in Europe, they are generally oblivious of the poor care, nutrition and keeping conditions that the animals are made to endure.
“This is a global problem that we can all play a role in helping, first and foremost with our feet by not visiting and paying to see these shows – the ruthless wildlife trade must end.”
The investigation discovered a mixture of attractions across Europe including Germany, Spain, France and the Czech Republic, that they claim have no benefit to the animals and are put on purely for entertainment with no regard for the endangered animals.
In Germany, one of the attractions they saw was people riding elephants for as little as £4.50 or can spend an hour with an elephant for £160.
Kieran said: “Elephants are highly intelligent herd animals who migrate and occupy vast areas of land. It is extremely cruel to keep them enclosed in small spaces and exploit them for commercial gain.
“Sadly, it is widely known that brutal training methods are normally used to make them submissive.
“It is often misunderstood that wild animals do not adapt to be around humans but are instead forced through violence to do so”.
Another attraction in Spain lets paying customers walk, pet and take selfies with a 300-kilo tiger called Noa. The attraction costs £135.
Kieran said: “Our footage shows how the tiger snaps at a visitor while playing in a game of chase, which is behaviour expected of a tiger and this person is lucky it wasn’t worse as tigers can kill in seconds.
“Her natural instincts cannot be suppressed even when raised in captivity and forcibly trained to perform.”
One of the most shocking attractions was found In the Czech Republic, where a bear is forced to perform elaborate tricks such as riding a skateboard or dance with a hula hoop, all whilst looking visibly weak and unwell.
As well as this, a medieval attraction in Watten, France, shows wolves jump through hoops and balance on narrow bars and a bear who entertains the tourists with sliding, dancing and eating fruit from a skewer.
Kieran said: “The handlers emphasise how much fun the bears are having during the show, but the reality looks very different. “The wolves looks emaciated and seem stressed, whilst the bear appears visibly uncomfortable with the leash and muzzle.
“Between and after the performances the wild animals are locked into small trailers”
‘FOUR PAWS’ hopes to open the eyes of UK citizens and show them that it’s not just on the other side of the planet where these types of cruel attractions are happening but can be found only a couple of hours away.
Kieran added: “FOUR PAWS warns tourists to avoid supporting cruel trade until stricter laws are enforced to protect wild animals in Europe.
“We are asking tourists to be more wary and If they notice any tour operators, attractions, or organisations violating the rights of animals or abusing an animal’s welfare, we’re asking them to report it immediately.”