By Mike Jones
The true horror of Thailand’s zoos are revealed in these sickening images showing animals locked up behind bars.
Wildlife including tigers, elephants and monkeys can be seen caged in the tiny enclosures and shackled with tiny, rusty chains that barely allow any movement.
Environmental photojournalist Aaron Gekoski captured their plight as tourists stroll round the attractions ogling at the visibly depressed animals.
The wildlife tourism industry in Thailand attracts up millions of visitors to see orangutans box, monkeys ride bicycles or sit on elephants in humiliating routines.
But the animals are kept locked up in the cramped, dirty cages and reportedly subjected to awful abuse.
Many of these pictures are taken in Pata Zoo which fills the top two floors of a crumbling shopping centre in central Bangkok
Aaron, 37, said: “Behind the shows and performances lies a dark side to this industry.
“The conditions in Pata Zoo are truly grim as the animals are kept in dank and dirty cages. People ask how I got access to these areas but they are there for everyone to see.
“It can be seen in the photographs but the animals are clearly depressed. The orangutans are not meant to be on the floor but up in the trees and are in general very solitary creatures.
“The captivity takes away these choices and is completely unsuitable.
“Many of the animals have been stolen from their families in the wild to live in inhumane conditions.
“Their spirits are broken by handlers who beat them into submissive states.
“They then live the rest of their lives in appalling conditions and are abused and mistreated on a daily basis.
“There’s zero justification for this – it’s all about maximising profits. The fact they’re allowed to operate legally is astounding.”
Aaron also went undercover to picture the animals at Safari World near Bangkok, Phuket Zoo and other zoos across Thailand.
Animal rights groups have reacted with anger to the heart-rending pictures.
Chris Draper, head of Animal Welfare and Captivity at the Born Free Foundation, said: “These pictures show the truly shocking environment the animals are kept in.
“As a priority, these zoos need to be closed down. The Thai authorities are not making any progress and they need to take notice about what is going on.
“They simply do not meet even the very basic standards needed for animal welfare.
“I have visited Pata Zoo and have to say its one of the most unpleasant experiences I’ve ever had.
“There are animals crammed into the most inappropriate spaces.
“They are not given any environmental enrichment in these impractical spaces and most of their lives are spent in these pitiful enclosures.
“The animals will have come from a range of sources. Some will have been bred in captivity and some will have been caught in the wild.
“But in terms of the welfare of the animals, it changes very little as they all suffer.”
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 also wants to set up a scheme where tourists can flag abuse at zoos on a Trip Advisor-style site
Aaron 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.”