I had mixed opinions when I went to visit the Chiang Mai Night Safari this week. On one hand, I love animals and take any chance to see them. On the other hand, I hate seeing animals treated poorly in captivity. So what’s the right decision.
First of all, I understand that just keeping an animal in captivity isn’t always a bad thing. There are many species that would have gone extinct if it hadn’t been for keeping some alive in captivity. (I know we shouldn’t have destroyed their habitat in the first place, but that’s a different discussion.)
By definition, a safari is an expedition to observe or hunt animals in their natural habitat. So does the Night Safari in Chiang Mai qualify as their natural habitat? Well, it isn’t Africa but the conditions are actually quite similar. Thailand is almost as north from the equator as safaris in Africa are south of the equator. The temperature is similar, and even the sandy and rocky ground is reminiscent of what I observed in Africa.
On the Chiang Mai Night Safari, there are two tram rides which pass through large areas where the animals are (mostly) free to roam. The giraffes, deer, zebras, wild hogs and other animals come right up to the tram to interact with the passengers, just as they would on an African safari. But there are other animals like the hippos, rhinos, lions and tigers which are confined to a not-too-small enclosed zone.
Are they treated poorly? I don’t know. Obviously I didn’t see any handler mistreating the animals while I was there. Nearly all of the animals were lively, moving about and interacting with each other and the visitors. I saw many of the animals getting fed while I was there, and the landscape where the animals lived was really clean. That’s a lot better than I could say for some of their natural habitats.
But there are also a couple shows. One is a nocturnal animal show that features hyenas, cougars, tigers and other animals that hunt at night. The other is a predator show where half a dozen tigers and a couple lions do some simple tricks for the crowd with a team of trainers and handlers. The tigers certainly didn’t look drugged as they do at the Tiger Kingdom, and there are ways to train any animal without the use of force (as with dogs). Is that how the tigers at the Chiang Mai Night Safari were trained? I simply don’t know. All I know is that tigers are some of my favorite animals, and I love the chance to see them in person. I also know that Siberian tigers are nearly extinct, and it’s the efforts that people have made with tigers in captivity that have kept them from going extinct altogether.
Apparently, the Night Safari has a water show, but I didn’t see that (even though it was included with my ticket). The last show I did see was a cabaret show, in which all the dancers were ladyboys. I’ve seen far better ladyboy shows (not that I try to find them – I’ve been taken to them by friends or the tourism board). The show lasts about 6 minutes, which isn’t bad as the main attraction is the animals.