Care to Share? A Story About Four Elephants, Two Girls, and One Horrible Zoo

When I first arrived in Bangkok, the cab that drove me to my new home from the airport had a laminated sheet of paper hanging over the back of the passenger seat. On it, were several pictures advertising for popular tourist attractions, a few included: a picture of the Grand Palace, the floating markets, the Tiger Temple, and one of a man whose head was precariously placed inside the jaws of a live crocodile. The photos peaked my interest, particularly since I had just arrived and was feeling a rush of wanting to do everything that I could in my short time here. Most of the photos included on the advertisement were things I have since done, or still very much so plan on doing. A few activities were things that I morally abhor. I had done my research on the Tiger Temple in Bangkok, and other tiger sanctuaries around Thailand, and had come to the conclusion that any place that was willing to exploit tigers for money would not be receiving money from me. Taking a picture with a full grown tiger may be an exciting and popular attraction for some, but I decided that any place willing to allow humans to touch, play with, and pose with tigers could not possibly be keeping the tigers' best interest at heart. Tigers are majestic predators that deserve to prowl in the safety of a sanctuary or freely in the jungle, not be chained to a post for hours with a queue of people waiting for a photo-op. In retrospect, I wish that I had done similar research on the crocodile shows, as well.

On Friday, February 20th, my friend, Emilia, and I were looking for something to do. We were staying in Bangkok for the weekend, and quickly decided that we wanted to find out what the crocodile shows were all about. I googled a place to see these infamous shows, and the World's Largest Crocodile Farm and Zoo in Samutprakarn popped up in the search results. Google reviews gave it 4.1 stars, though I didn't bother to read any of the reviews. We realized we only had a few hours left before the park closed, and because it is quite a ways outside of Bangkok, we decided it was better not to take a taxi. Impatiently, we waited for the only bus that would take us near the farm. By the time the bus picked us up and dropped us off in the right location, the park was only open for another hour. We bought our tickets, and entered the park. The first thing we noticed while walking in were closed souvenir shops containing crocodile skin bags, shoes, vests, and jackets, as well as crocodile skulls. We quickly understood what happened with the dead crocodiles. Little did we know, this was just the beginning of abhorrent things we would witness during our short time in the zoo.

We rounded the corner from the shops, and our hearts sank even further. Five adolescent tigers paced within a concrete cage shaped like a Venn Diagram, no larger than 20 feet in length and 8 or 9 feet at its widest points. The tigers' cage was surrounded by a meek barrier, one which could easily be reached over to touch or prod the animals. The crocodile show was to start in the next 30 minutes, so Emilia and I left the adolescent tigers and went over to where the crocodiles were being held. Three enclosures held approximately 80-100 crocodiles. The first we stumbled upon was a horrifyingly dreary concrete slab surrounded by a 5 foot wide moat that housed all of the younger crocs. The second was a larger enclosure with much more area to swim, and actually included foliage, with a mixture of massive, old crocs and younger, smaller crocs. The third was smaller than the second enclosure, and housed very large, old looking crocs. We were taking photos at the second enclosure, when other park visitors began lining up around the viewing platform around us. From the safety of the viewing platform, they cast lines over the side that had fish attached at the end, and began feeding the crocs. Crocodiles sulked out of the water, waiting to have a fish head come close to their mouths before chomping down with immense and terrifying force. It was here, that Emilia and I saw a very sad looking croc with half its jaw missing and its tongue loosely hanging from the left side of its face. Looking around, we saw more crocs with deformations or sometimes blood coming out of their mouths, though they hadn't received a fish. These was only the first of many diseased and unhealthy creatures we would soon see.

Finally, it was time for the show. We sat down in a gladiator type arena, hesitantly looking into the pit below. I could never have anticipated the intense pangs of sorrow I felt for the poor crocs forced to participate in the show. The two Thai handlers in the pit dragged them out of the water by their tails, and would prod them on their heads and bodies with sticks to get them to move or do what they wanted. It became clear to Emilia and I why the crocodile shows continue to happen, however, despite the danger to the handlers and the abuse of the crocodiles. The modestly sized crowd threw the handlers close to 1000 baht during the course of the show to get them to do more tricks. Towards the end of the show, the handlers did the crowd-pleasing hands and head inside the croc's mouth. Then, they began collecting all of the money being thrown at them. They proceeded to throw all of the money into the crocodile's mouth. The crowd gasped, and the handlers began shouting things to the crowd in Thai. All the while, the poor crocodile, jaws wide open, is left with cash and coins in its mouth. Slowly, the handlers began retrieving the cash, but not the coins. I assume the coins are left for the crocodiles to swallow.

At the end of the show, Emilia and I were left depressed and ashamed that we had given money to this place. But seeing as the zoo was about to close, we decided to go have a look for ourselves what other animals the park had and their condition. At this point, you can probably imagine that what we saw was not great.

The first corner we rounded led us to cages of chimpanzees. All of the chimps we saw were very clearly diseased, with tumorous-looking butts and patches of hair missing. Their cages had plastic wrappers and bottles in them that the chimps were gnawing on. Next to this, were side-by-side cages, housing one female, and then one female and one male orangutan. The concrete cages were about the size of a two car garage with almost nothing in them. No foliage, no toys, only a trough with water. The two orangutans upon figuring out that we were not going to feed them (both the chimpanzee and orangutan cages were surrounded by a fence that had an opening with a sign that said, "Feed here"), held hands, walked to the back of the cage, and sat down together. Their behavior was so recognizable--so human--Emilia couldn't help but begin crying.

We walked past the orangutans where more monkeys were held in even smaller cages, all just as diseased. Past this were adult tigers, a sign indicating brown bears lived in the enclosure, more small monkeys, very sad and fat raccoons, snakes, lizards, goats, boars, and more. All of the animals lived in tiny cement cages surrounded by their own filth.

Eventually, we arrived at the back of the park. At this time, the park had officially closed, and it seemed like we were the only people left. We were walking down a stretch leading back to the main gate when we saw pictures for the elephant show. The pictures showed us that these poor creatures were forced to balance on tuk-tuks, walk on low-hanging tight ropes and perform other unnatural, circus-like feats. We walked behind the empty arena, and there we saw one old female, two bull elephants, and one elephant around 1-2 years old. All of the elephants were chained to metals posts with about a 3 feet of slack. Seeing as the park had closed, we quickly deduced that the elephants would remain there chained up all night. After watching An Apology to Elephants, I knew exactly what these elephants had gone through in order to get them to perform those horrible tricks, and immediately recognized swaying in one of the elephants. There was grass scattered about in front of the gates were the elephants were being held, and Emilia and I began gathering it up and throwing it into the cages. Unfortunately, we could not get them water, and their water troughs were empty. I gathered some up and threw it into one of the bull elephants cages. He quickly gobbled it all up and started swaying back and forth, staring at me all the while. Sinking to the ground, I broke out into tears. This was exactly how I did not want to encounter my first Asian elephant. They looked straight into Emilia and my eyes, and pulled on the locks on the gates with their trunks as if to show us how to set them free. I pledged to myself that I would somehow get these elephants out of this horrible place, to some a place where they could roam around free. As I was crouched crying my eyes out, the bull elephant in front of me fully extended its body, with its chained leg up in the air, and reached out its trunk through the gate and over to me. I started bawling. I held my hand up to his trunk, and he sniffed and snorted around my palm. He was so obviously intelligent, and so obviously in mental and physical pain. My sunken heart finally broke.

All of the animals in the Samutprakarn Crocodile Farm and Zoo are in need of rescuing. Unfortunately, I have contacted some rescue centers in Thailand, and have received the same response, "We're sorry, but we can't do anything about this." They all suggested that I share my story with my friends and family, and encourage them to share it with their friends and family. It would be a dream come true if this story had enough impact to help all of these animals find a new home. Elephants never forget, and that's why I feel personally obligated to help these elephants especially. I hope that the next time I see my beautiful pachyderm friends, all four of them will be living in a sanctuary far away from the prison they are in now. Sharing is caring, so please care to share. If you know anyone who can get these creatures to a safer, healthier environment or anything I can contact to alert them of the injustices being done to these animals, please let me know.


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