Divers discover underwater animals chained and caged for tourism
There are two types of people in this world. The first are those of us who see rare and wonderful land and underwater animals, and stand back, gaze in awe and think: "my god, they're beautiful". The second are those out there who look at them and think: "that'll make me a few extra bucks".
It's become a tragic reality that the tourism industry is rife with members of the latter group. Go pretty much anywhere as a holidaymaker and at some point you will be invited to pay up some cash to stroke an anaesthetised tiger, be blessed by an abused temple elephant or be entertained by a performing monkey. Keen for the likes on social media, many sightseers blindly go full steam ahead, forgetting that their Facebook selfie costs a living and breathing creature another few seconds of their life that they can never get back.
A prime example of this occurred in 2017 when a small group of divers made a disturbing discovery just off the remote island of Kokoya in Indonesia. Diver, Delon Lim, was shocked when he was asked by a local fisherman if he and his friends wanted to see two dugongs, rare and elusive underwater animals that can only be found in warm coastal waters. Boasting of the mother and calf he had captured, the fisherman told the pair that he would charge them to take photos and videos in the cage in he had been keeping them in.
The duo were initially reluctant to give the man any money, but decided to go down to see the dugongs to take some pictures as evidence to build a case against the fisherman. They knew already that the situation would be bad, but it seems they were unprepared for exactly what they were about to see.
At the bottom of the ocean, the mother and calf were held in separate cages; the younger creature was able to swim inside its small enclosure, however, its mother's movement was restricted by a large rope and her skin was marred with scars and wounds. Although it was unclear how long they had been cruelly held captive, Lim suspected they had experienced weeks of suffering. In his own words: “The ropes are worn and torn. The scars and the wound on her tail are so deep. It was very heartbreaking.”
When they returned to sea level, the outraged divers confronted the fisherman and attempted to persuade him to set the underwater animals free. Incredibly, he agreed. But the pair of divers refused to take him on his word, afterwards posting the video they had taken to social media with the hope it would cause a stir. They were right; immediately afterwards, there was uproar online and the footage caught the attention of animal welfare authorities who arrived on the island the following day. Unsurprisingly they discovered that the mother and her baby still trapped. But, with the help of the authorities, the protected species were finally set free to live what would hopefully be long and happy lives. According to reports, charges were later filed against the captor.
Although it doesn't seem like it, these two animals were some of the lucky ones. This story has a happy ending but it doesn't negate the fact that the animal tourism sector is a billion-dollar industry built solely on the suffering of intelligent and social beings who are denied every basic right in life. Every year, thousands of tourists pay on average 700 baht ($20 USD) to pet a captive tiger cub in Thailand or $68 per head to ride an elephant in Bali, despite the conditions that they live in."
As we speak, there are millions of creatures being held as prisoners across the world; the animal rights organisation People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has pulled back the curtain on controversial tourism attractions, bringing home the point that what might be a cool picture for us is often a living nightmare for the animals involved. Tigers are often drugged, mutilated and physically restrained in order to make them safe for the public to snap pictures with, while some elephant calves are torn away from their mothers and restrained for as long as 14 hours at a time, in order to train them into carrying tourists on their backs - which, for the record, can cause severe damage to their spines.
Many animal rights activists also claim that even family-friendly zoos are morally redundant, the merits of their educational and conservation projects diminished by the many wild animals which are deeply frustrated in their restricted and unnatural environments.
The animal tourism industry's success is perhaps partly down to naive travellers who remain unaware of the abuse that often goes on behind the scenes. Animal charity, World Animal Protection, called on tourists to think twice about their trips after research found that almost half of people pay for a wild animal experience because they love animals, but were unaware of the abuse that went on when they weren't looking.
Mike Baker, chief executive of World Animal Protection said: “What we need to do is alert people to the wildlife suffering in this industry. We don’t want that once in a lifetime experience to be a lifetime of misery for the animal. If an animal is doing something it wouldn’t do in the wild then it’s probably not right and something has gone on to make them behave that way. Take elephant rides – you couldn’t just jump on a wild elephant’s back, there’s a process to get them there. They’re chained up, beaten. And what we’ve realised is most people don’t want that.”
Ultimately, all over the world animals are neglected, mistreated and abused - and, whether we know it or not, we're funding it. Situations like the one with the mother and calf make it clear that, as tourists, we need to make ourselves more aware of what exactly is going on under our noses, because otherwise, we are just as bad as the fisherman who looks at two beautiful sea creatures with dollar bill symbols bulging from his eyes.