By Meg Lamb
Thai veterinarians recently removed approximately 915 coins from a twenty-five year old green sea turtle. The turtle was named “Omsin” – Thai for piggy bank.
As Thai custom holds that a turtle’s long life shall rub off on those who share their wealth; many tourists came to Omsin’s pond to toss in money, in the hope this act would bring them longevity. Over the years, hundreds – if not thousands – of coins were tossed into her pond and, unfortunately Omsin ate the coins.
The loose change eventually formed a five kilogram ball in Omsin’s stomach which affected her ability to swim and caused her ventral shell to crack. She was subsequently removed from the pond and taken to a vet. There, Omsin underwent a gruelling seven-hour surgery to remove the coins from her stomach, where a fish hook was also found. Unfortunately Omsin passed away shortly after the operation due to an intestinal obstruction and nickel poisoning.
Like Omsin, hundreds of thousands of wild animals across the world are taken away from their natural habitat, forced into captivity and subjected to abuse – all in the name of tourism.
Many tourists who love animals may incidentally contribute to animal suffering by seeking out wild animal tourism experiences because they are unaware of the hidden cruelty.
Taking a ride on an elephant or posing for a photograph with a tiger may seem like the chance of a lifetime for tourists, but it can mean a lifetime of suffering for the animals involved.
Usually these animals are taken from the wild at a young age or bred in captivity for entertainment. In order to make them suitable for tourist “experiences”, some are subjected to a range of cruel training practices
Methods such as isolation, starvation and bashings are often utilised to break an elephant’s spirit to get them to behave and perform. Trainers may use bull hooks (nails on long sticks) to control them during rides and performances. When the rides are over, elephants are often restrained by chains, kept in bright sunlight and high temperatures on concrete floors and given an inadequate diet. As elephants are highly intelligent and sentient beings, they can develop certain psychiatric conditions such as post traumatic stress disorder in response to such extreme abuse.
The infamous Tiger Temple in Thailand provides another example of a wild animal tourism experience which raises serious animal welfare concerns. This experience allows tourists to come up close and personal with these majestic creatures for the sake of a photo opportunity.
Whilst popular in Thailand, captive tigers are used as photographic props all over the world, including in Australia and America. In fact, there are around 5,000 captive tigers in the United State alone, compared to the 3,200 tigers in the wild.
In order to make them safe for tourists to handle, tigers are often sedated and have their teeth and claws removed while unwanted tigers may be killed, skinned or sold to roadside tourist operators.
Many large companies like TripAdvisor and Virgin Australia are helping to bring the hidden cruelty involved with captive animal tourism to light. But these sad examples show how all too often, the law falls short in protecting the welfare of animals – especially those in captivity.