By Mike Jones
Shocking images of orangutans being exploited in cruel boxing bouts for tourists have emerged.
Safari World near Bangkok, Thailand, put on the daily shows for crowds of holidaymakers to watch the animals battle it out in the ring.
The mocked up fighters are put in gloves and shorts while female apes are dressed up as ring girls in bikinis and miniskirts.
Environmental photojournalist Aaron Gekoski witnessed the show and captured the horrifying images.
He saw the animals egged on by their handlers to perform a number of stunts on the stage before the fighting begins.
Aaron, 37, said: “The orangutans are forced into hideous pantomime routines.
“For some reason, people found it funny watching these beautiful, sentient, intelligent animals having their pants pulled down or pretending to fight each other.
“The orangutans are not doing it because they want to, they are doing it because they are forced to.
“One can only imagine how these animals were trained in order to perform like this.”
But describing the show Safari World website unashamedly writes: “Who could miss the world’s first and only orangutan boxing show .. starring the funniest and hairiest champions of the Olympics?
“Whether hanging upside down or rightside up be sure to hang out with the orangutans at Safari World.”
Aaron has been documenting Thailand’s wildlife tourism industry and claims more than half a million animals worldwide can be subjected to horrific abuse in order to entertain.
He also witnessed apparent animal abuse in Pata Zoo and Phuket Zoo.
He added: “What I witnessed was shocking and incredibly distressing.
“Posing for a tiger selfie, riding on the back of an elephant, watching dolphin shows: over 100 million visit cruel wildlife tourism attractions every year.
“Yet behind the shows and performances lies a dark side to the industry.
“We saw grossly overweight or underweight orangutans kept in tiny cages or forced to box each other; a gorilla living in a filthy ‘cell’ at the top of a shopping mall; drugged elephants shackled to chains by night and then made to ‘dance’ or play football all day; emaciated tigers kept on tiny chains so they could barely move; monkeys dressed up, yanked around on leads and made to ride bikes.
“It really was a Wildlife House of Horrors.
“Many animals are beaten and mistreated and have their spirits broken by handlers, rendering them completely submissive.
“Yet most tourists aren’t aware of the abuse that takes place or how poor the quality of life is for many captive animals.”
British-born Aaron, a winner at this year’s wildlife photographer of the year, now plans to return to Thailand to shoot a documentary exposing the alleged abuses and is crowdfunding his next visit.
He said: “A long-term goal is to create a global platform so tourists can “Raise the Red Flag” on abusive operators by posting photos, videos and reviews; a little like Trip Advisor, but focused on Wildlife Tourism.
“At the moment, it’s hard to get reliable information online and research has shown that 80% of visitors leave positive reviews on Trip Advisor for venues that are treating animals cruelly.
“Eventually I’d like to set up an accreditation system so tourists can make informed choices on which wildlife attractions to visit.
“In an ideal world I’d then like to work with the authorities to close down the most neglectful operators.
“However, change is possible when people vote with their feet and don’t visit these places.
“In the meantime I will continue my photographic journey, visiting other countries and operators known for their cruel treatment of animals.
“This means plenty more sub-standard zoos, aquariums, circuses and more in the pipeline.”
Animal rights groups slammed the exploitation of the orangutans.
Chris Draper, Head of Animal Welfare & Captivity at the Born Free Foundation, said: “These images depict the exploitative and utterly disrespectful use of wild animals, being forced to entertain the ill-informed and mindless.
“Often they are illegal taken from the wild and traded for use in such shows, taken away from their mothers and hand reared.
“How they are trained suggests cruelty and depravity become part of their everyday lives, they are often beaten or left in barren enclosures with nothing close to what they need.
“Orangutans are very intelligent, closely related to humans, and so share our capacity for pain.
“Tourists are funding this trade by visiting shows, many may not even realise the pain they are suffering, often being lead to believe they enjoy what they are doing.
“People need to be educated by tourists operators on what really goes on behind the scenes, they need to register their concerns, many don’t understand the animals are suffering.
“This ultimately falls at the Thai authorities feet who need to look at the practice and legislation and individuals making the right choice not to visit such shows.”
“This is a world away from what these animals need and deserve, and it is dreadful to think that such activities still continue in 2018.”
The Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand have been fighting against the Far East country’s industry for 17 years.
A spokesman said: “Thailand has numerous zoos and other attractions which clearly exploit both wild and domestic animals.
“Each attraction has a different history and some are operating illegally, and obtaining animals illegally.
“This is clearly visible in a well know Bangkok zoo I visited myself last week, where I witnessed huge numbers of infant chimpanzees and orangutans.
“These animals cannot have been bred in captivity as it would be impossible in relation to the number of sexually mature adults they house. Who knows where these animals may have come from?
“Many of the animals you have seen will have been illegally smuggled into the country or illegally poached from the wild.
“This is very common with animals such as orangutans and gibbons.
“Some are also bred in captivity but it often faster and more cost effective to purchase them from illegal wildlife traders.”
A Peta spokesperson added: ”When you see these animals performing what are uncomfortable and stressful tricks, know that they are not doing it because they want to.
“They are doing it because they are afraid to often subjected to electric shocks cigarette burnings or beatings if they do not obey in training.”