THE DEGRADING treatment of orangutans imprisoned by Thailand’s wildlife tourism industry has been captured by a Leamington photojournalist.
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.
His photo of a ‘boxing’ orangutan, in a tourist attraction in Thailand, was recently ‘highly commended’ by the Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition.
It forms part of a project by the campaigner to highlight the abuse within orangutan tourism which sees the apes forced to box, dance, play drums and wear clothes.
The Safari World attraction came under fire in 2004 after authorities found the orangutans had been illegally captured in Malaysia or Indonesia, and not bred in captivity as claimed by the park. The orangutans were confiscated but some two years later more arrived at the park and the shows continued.
Aaron told the Observer: “Orangutans that have been caught from the wild often have their mothers killed. They are then illegally smuggled into wildlife tourism attractions, and are often trained using cruel methods such as food deprivation or corporal punishment.
“They then have to perform under the most stressful conditions imaginable for an orangutan, until they are too old then they will be locked in a cage until they die. It’s a life of abject misery.
“Orangutans are highly sentient, intelligent, gentle and solitary animals that share 97 per cent of DNA with humans. They suffer from stress and depression in captivity and don’t deserve to be treated like this.”
The former Leamington resident, who is currently based in Bali, hopes his work will raise awareness of the cruelty involved in wildlife tourism and help travellers ‘vote with their feet’ against its abusive treatment.
He said: “It’s thought that over half a million animals are suffering in the industry. Yet most of the time, tourists aren’t aware of the abuses that are happening in front of their eyes, or behind closed doors.
“The aim of this project is to make people think twice before riding an elephant, paying to watch animal performances, going to zoos, or taking part in any activities that involve the exploitation of animals.”
The intrepid photographer is also busy producing films to highlight the exotic pet trade, with a focus on snakes and otters, as well as investigating inhumane industries from abused donkeys in the Middle-East to the dog meat trade in Cambodia.
He added: “Whilst Asia is often viewed as the epicenter of the wildlife tourism industry, there are many abuses happening right on our doorstep and all over the world. Animals are increasingly just seen as commodities for us to exploit or enjoy.”
Visit www.aarongekoski.com for more information on Aaron’s work and his Raise the Red Flag campaign.