Khao Kheow Open Zoo Zoo Review

Khao Kheow Open Zoo, Thailand – Zoo Review

The RIGHT-tourism Zoo Review is a quick but informed guide to the quality of places where the public can see animals, including zoos, dolphinariums and other attractions.

We’ve used a range of measures, taken from information available online, to judge how well the animals at the particular zoo or animal attraction are looked after. More than just a ‘review’, the results are actually a Quality Index which will allow tourists and the attractions themselves to judge how well the attractions are performing.

Please note, the information we use is taken from what we assume to be genuine and factually correct comments from reviews, blogs and news stories. If there are factual inaccuracies, please let us know and we will make the relevant changes.

RIGHT-tourism Zoo Review Rating for: Khao Kheow Open Zoo, Thailand

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Summary

In a country that has a notoriously bad record for animal welfare and rights the Khao Kheow Open zoo appears to be doing better than a lot of others.
Giving the animal large areas to roam and move it is a marked difference to the bare, tiny cages of many other zoos and attractions across South East Asia and Thailand. However does being different in this respect really mean that this zoo is worth supporting?
There is no evidence to suggest that the animals are well cared for and the practice of the visitors hand feeding the animals that occurs here doesn’t garner a healthy respect of the animals by people. Too many questions also remain as to if the animals are kept hungry to encourage them to feed from visitors, which can occur in other zoos where feeding is an attraction.
Although the zoo was awarded a Certificate for meeting “Basic Professional Standards of Ethics and Welfare” by the SE Asian Zoo Association (SEAZA) in 2008 they still force animals to perform for crowds. They have also been implicated in an elephant show in that was ironically scheduled for last years CITES (Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species) conference; traditional ways that elephants are “domesticated and taught” are abusive and cruel.
They score well in their efforts to study, breed and reintroduce animals back in to the wild, but suffer from their interactions and shows and some reports of inadequate cages for the big cats.
This reviewer would warn against this zoo and suggest that sanctuaries and reserves are more worthy of your money. That said, if you wish to visit a zoo whilst in Thailand then this would be better than most of the others.

Khao Kheow open zoo image, c TripAdvisor

Report Card

Section One: Social Media and News

This section looks at how the attraction is rated by people on key reviewing sites, and in blogs/the media. The reviews are often not concerned with animal welfare, so this section has a lower influence on the overall mark than other sections. However, it is an important measure of the way the attraction is viewed by visitors.

Number of negative TripAdvisor reviews

For the most recent 20 reviews which appear on the official TripAdvisor page for the attraction, how many mention animal welfare in a negative way. The score is worked out as a percentage (see method below).

Number of negative reviews:  7/20

Score: 2 Points

Most reviews are neutral, not mentioning poor conditions. Negative reviews generalised on the use of animals for photo opportunities, as well as mentioning that some cat enclosures were inadequate and that the animals seemed to have “given up on themselves”.
Only two reviews actually state that they believe the animals are well cared for and healthy.

Number of negative Google reviews

For the most recent 20 reviews which appear on the Google search page for the attraction, how many mention animal welfare in a negative way. The score is worked out as a percentage (see method below).

Number of negative reviews: 0/6

Score: 2.5 Points

Very few reviews available in English, of those almost all (five) made no mention of welfare issues. The only positive review said that the animals had lots of space to roam.

Number of negative news articles and blogs
For the most recent 10 independent blogs or news articles for the attraction, how many mention animal welfare in a negative way. The score is worked out as a percentage (see method below).

Number of negative mentions:  2/10

Score: 4 points

News and blogs were very hard to find.

Most refer to the health or wellbeing of individual animals and are not generalised. Negative reviews indicate the possibility that elephants (amongst other animals) are forced to perform in shows. The varying age of the articles suggest that the zoo has been steadily improving itself and phasing out the more negative aspects of typical SE Asian Zoos. One article suggests that animal rights activists attempting to liberate a gorilla from a department store zoo (!) would be keen to relocate the gorilla to Khao Kheow Open Zoo.

Total Score for Social Media and News Section:  8.5/10

 

Section Two: General Quality of Life

This section looks generally at how the animals, as a whole, appear to be treated. It is based on the internationally recognised Five Freedoms, which focus on key aspects of animal welfare including feeding, housing, health, behaviour and protection from fear/distress.

Each item is scored as either two points for a Yes, zero points for a No or one point for Possibly. (The Possibly category also includes situations where the answer would be Sometimes; or if the answer is unknown).

Absence of prolonged hunger and/or thirst

Score: Possibly   1 Point

Many reports that visitors are encouraged to feed the animals and some mention of water present, but in investigations of other attractions it has been discovered that animals are kept hungry to encourage them to consume food from visitors. Without an indication from a vet or staff member doubt must be maintained.

Being fed an appropriate diet based on their wild diet

Score: No   0 Points

See above – Vegetables bought from stalls aren’t wild diet

Ease of movement within living quarters

Score: Possibly   Point

Whilst many animals are free to roam and no photos indicate chains or other restraint, the reviews stating not everywhere is adequate casts doubt on how true this is.

Enrichment in living quarters (eg climbing frame, toys etc)

Score: Possibly   1 Point

Photos indicate that enrichment is present, but the way the animals take food from tourists indicates that boredom or hunger could be present.

Absence of injuries or disease

Score: Possibly   1 Point

Whilst no mention is made of injured or sick animals there are reports of unexpected elephant deaths from a few years ago, as well as reviews suggesting cats pacing from stress and the zoos “Head of behaviour and welfare” and “Head of animals health” are both conspicuous by their absence from the official website.

Absence of pain (eg being not being chained, or not being hit by staff)

Score: Possibly   1 Point

Once again no person reports that animals are beaten or restrained, but traditional Thai techniques for training elephants and other animals are not refuted or condemned. This coupled with the presence of animal shows rules out a yes in this category

Ability to express natural and social behaviours in living quarters

Score: Possibly   1 Point

The possibility for animals to express natural behaviours is higher than in many other zoos due to its size and open style, but no indication is given as to if they do or not

Good human-animal relationship with staff

Score: Possibly   1 Point

I do not class animals such as giraffe, monkeys, hippos or rhino eating from the hands or tourist as a “good” human-animal relationship; but potentially staff are good with the animals

Absence of general fear/distress/apathy

Score: Yes   2 Points

The open style and hand feeding, to me, clearly indicates that these animals do not display fear, distress or apathy. If these emotions were present there should be more reports of injuries or fatalities to visitors.

Ability to seek privacy/refuge from humans and other animals

Score: Possibly   1 Point

From the photos there appears to be areas within many of the enclosures where animals can go if they don’t want to feed. However with so many animals in the enclosures is it possible that all animals could seek refuge at the same time if they wanted to?

Total Score for General Quality of Life:  10/20

 

Section Three: Interaction with the Public

This section focusses on the way the attraction allows the public to touch, play with, photograph, feed or otherwise interact with the animals. The focus is on whether or not the interactions are causing harm or stress/discomfort to the animals, and if they could be dangerous to the public.

Each item is scored as either two points for a Yes, zero points for a No or one point for Possibly. (The Possibly category also includes situations where the answer would be Sometimes; or if the answer is unknown).

The interactions are not harmful in any way for the animal’s welfare
Score: Possibly   1 Points

I don’t believe that the interactions are harmful, but neither do I believe hand feeding is in any way beneficial.

The interactions are not harmful in any way for the public’s welfare (any previous history of dangerous incidents)

Score: Possibly   1 Point

Absolutely no indication that anyone has ever been hurt is this zoo, however the close interactions between humans and animals lends itself to an incident.

The animals are not forced to interact with the public – they can refuse

Score: No   0 Points

Once again, no indication that the animals cannot refuse and indications that the animals in the shows cannot refuse. If animals are kept hungry for visitor entertainment then ‘no’ has to be the rating.

The public are not allowed to handle the animals and touch them

Score: No   0 Points

Clearly they are allowed to touch.

The interactions are supervised by staff and in an educational context

Score: No   0 Points

Whilst staff are present it is impossible to supervise all interactions in a zoo of this style

Total Score for Interaction with the Public:  2/10

Section Four: Conservation and Education

This section looks at whether or not the attraction has a focus on conservation – for example does it support animals in the wild through breeding programmes, research or donations; and education – are visitors informed about the animals so they are not simply seen as objects for human amusement/entertainment.

Each item is scored as either two points for a Yes, zero points for a No or one point for Possibly. (The Possibly category also includes situations where the answer would be Sometimes; or if the answer is unknown).

Are some of the animals part of international breeding programs?

Score: Yes   2 Points

Thai cloud leopards, pygmy hippos and blue wildebeest have all been bred at the zoo and in conjunction with other zoos.

Is there evidence of them having released animals into the wild?

Score: Yes   2 Points

Pied hornbills, Eld’s deer and cranes have all been part of (apparently) successful reintroduction programs.

Do they actively undertake scientific research into conservation/behaviour of their animals?

Score: Yes   2 Points

Tigers, lesser adjutant storks and hornbills have all been the subjects of behavioural research.

Does the attraction give money to conservation or animal protection programmes?

Score: Possibly   1 Point

There is no definitive statement that this is what they do, but the inclusion of reintroduction programs is indicative of them working with conservation projects.

Does the attraction provide educational talks or written displays to inform visitors about the animals?

Score: Possibly   1 Point

This has been listed as a possibly as I believe that although they do provide educational information to visitors and students of all ages, they do it through, amongst other methods, animal shows. I believe that whatever educational content they are relaying could be gained without this exploitative practice.

Total Score for Conservation and Education:  9/10

 

Zoo Review Final Score for Khao Kheo Open Zoo:  29.5/50

Rating: Average – the attraction scores well in some areas but improvements would be welcome

Do you agree or disagree with this Zoo Review? Please let us know in the Comments below.
If you are from this attraction and would like to comment on this Zoo Review, we’ll be happy to publish your response. Please email info@careforthewild.com or click here

Notes

1. This report was compiled on: 29th October 2014, by Tim Reynolds. Find out more about our Zoo Review campaign here.

2. Zoo Review Final Score is given out of 50 as a sum of the four sections, then a RIGHT-tourism Zoo Review rating is awarded based on this score:

0-10: Unacceptable – the animal welfare at this attraction appears to be of a very low standard and a cause of great concern
11-20: Poor – it appears that significant improvement is needed in order to meet welfare standards
21-30: Average – the attraction scores well in some areas but improvements would be welcome
31-40: Good – Public opinion and animal welfare measures suggest that the animals here are looked after well
41-50: Best in Class – the welfare of the animals appears to be of a very high standard

3. TripAdvisor and Google scores are worked out by dividing the number of negative welfare reviews by the total (20) and multiplying by 100 to give a percentage, then giving a score out of 2.5 as follows:

0-19% negative 2.5 points
20-39% 2 points
40-59% 1.5 points
60-79% 1 point
80-89% 0.5 point
90–100% 0 points

3. News and blog scores are worked out by dividing the number of negative welfare reviews by the total (10) and multiplying by 100 to give a percentage, then giving a score out of 5 as follows:

0-19% negative 5 points
20-39% 4 points
40-59% 3 points
60-79% 2 point
80-89% 1 point
90–100% 0 points





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