WILDLIFE tourism in Thailand is like ‘visiting a house of horrors’ says a photojournalist from Leamington.
Aaron Gekoski has been documenting the plight of animals around the world for some years – from the habit destruction caused by the palm oil industry in Borneo, to shark finning in Mozambique and seal culling in Nambia.
Now the 37-year-old has turned his attention to Thailand where he says more than half a million animals are taken from the wild to a life of squalor and abuse in the form of neglectful zoos, elephant-back safaris, monkey theatres, dolphin shows and more.
He said: “Their spirits are broken by handlers, who beat them into submissive states – elephants, for example, go through ‘the crush’ – a form of torture designed to break their spirits. They then live the rest of their lives in unsuitable habitats and are abused and mistreated on a daily basis.
“What I saw was truly shocking – orangutans forced to box each other in humiliating routines, elephants which appeared so drugged they could barely walk, monkeys yanked around on chains and made to ride bikes, a gorilla living in a filthy cell at the top of a shopping mall.
“There’s zero justification for this – it’s all about maximising profits. The fact they’re allowed to operate legally is astounding.
“There must be a crackdown on these abusive operators.”
Aaron – whose adventures began with a film course in South Africa’s Kruger National Park – has made a series of short films which has captured the attention of authorities in Thailand. The series shows animals being force-fed, dressed up in clothes, stuck in tiny cages and being struck for bad behaviour.
Phuket Zoo has been told to clean up its act and improve conditions for its animals.
The businessman tuned wildlife champion plans to make a documentary on the industry, as he continues to travel to other countries where cruelty remains rife.
Aaron said he hoped to create an app ‘a little like Trip Advisor’, so people can flag up the most abusive operators. Users will be able to post pictures and comments, allowing others to make decisions on which attractions to avoid.
He added: “Change will only happen once people vote with their feet and don’t visit these places. Money talks.”
Visit www.aarongekoski.com to find out more about Aaron’s work.