Thailand’s…Love of Animals!

(National Geograhic foto of formerly injured Bangkok street elephant)

Now, if you are a newbie teacher to Thailand and were wondering of some lesson plan to get the kids laughing, one of the classics just has to be teaching animal sounds. Just as us foreigners speak different languages to the sing-along sounding one the locals speak in Thailand, it seems that the local animals speak a different lingo too.

Now, a duck in Farangland may say ‘quack-quack’ but just ask the Thais and they will laugh at any such sound and inform you that a Thai duck does in fact, say ‘gap-gap’. As for birds abroad who sing out ‘tweet-tweet’, Thai birds enjoy nothing more that a good ‘jeep-jeep’. Thai dogs just love to ‘hao-hao’, the pigs a ‘oot-oot’ but as for cats, they like to ‘meow’ just like their Farang counterparts. Chickens however, well they are different kettle of fish altogether. None of that ‘cock-a-doodle-doo’ for the local chickens here in LOS, here it’s ‘eggy-eggy-aek’. There are more, but start off with those for starters, and yer kiddie students will be rolled up in laughter at the sound of Farang animals!

Thinking about Thailand and her animals, I guess one of the first animals that springs to mind just has to be the ‘elephant’. Once upon a time I had the privilege of working as an extra on some Beer Singha TV commercial up there in Chiang Rai. Since my job was as one of only three extras, I had the wonderful pleasure of being sat on my bottom for the first one and a half days of shooting while the well-paid ‘main actors’ strut their stuff. Not minding the chore just as long as I was getting paid, I was also very chuffed with the free cans of beer laid on by Beer Singha. By the time I was on the set, my job was to sit on one of the elephants for an enduring two hours and toss myself to-and-fro while the thing was walking around. Sat on an elephant is quite a scary experience, almost like being sat on some flimsy scaffolding on the third floor which feels like it’s going to give way at any moment. Being told to giddy ourselves left to right with the rhythm of the elephant’s walking was complete exaggeration and also a rather dangerous feat after an afternoon’s consumption of free beer. I must have done a decent job however, as that Beer Singh commercial stayed on the screens for a year or so.

Anyone who has been to Thailand must have seen an elephant walking the streets with some scruffy looking lads strolling alongside asking you to pity the animal and feed it some bananas at 20 baht a shot. In fact, such activity is illegal in Thailand but the local powers in charge don’t seem to notice. Anyway, could you imagine the sight of the police arresting a ten ton elephant and having it leg-cuffed to the back of a cop pick-up and hauled off to the station! As for trying to stuff the thing in a cell, now that would be one heck of a sight!

Personally, I refrain from buying any 20 baht bananas for begging elephants. I can’t count how many times now that I have read stories about some pitiful elephant, who on walking down the road, got one of its huge legs stuck in a man-hole. Unlike humans who can help ourselves in such a situation, the average elephant has to been winched out my some crane, and on securing some permanent injury, has its life cut short. A few years ago too, it was found out that the Bangkokian street mahouts had gone to extra lengths to make sure their beasts had the energy to walk for 18 hours non-stop. After urine checks of a couple of elephants by the local ‘save the elephant’ foundation it was deciphered that the elephants were literally on ‘speed’ – methamphetamine!

Now, one of the biggest debates lately, is whether an elephant is better off roaming the streets of Bangkok or being stuck at some Australian zoo. The debate came to light after protesters blocked the path of some of the beasts who were on their way to some ship headed for Sydney. Distraught at the future of the elephants walking the holey streets, the folks behind the ‘export deal’ explained that the average Thai elephant would prefer a life behind bars that being subjected to a life on the streets as a beggar. The debate rages on……..

(File foto of Chiang Mai giraffe on hearing of its not-so delicious fate)

Getting off the controversial subject of elephants for the moments, let us look at another highly controversial subject and that is the government’s plans for nature’s wildlife. After great pompous affair, Chiang Mai’s enormous brand-new Night Safari was opened to the public! Our beloved caretaker PM, Mr Thaksin, who on wanting to arrange a delicious banquet for a whole host of VIPs, showed just how much he cares for animals and ordered a splendid mouth-watering menu of Giraffe Steak, Bear Burgers, Tender Tiger Tendons and Roasted Rhino. Of course, the banquet never happened after an outpour of public disbelief at such a quack-wack idea.

Well, the Night Safari is looking like a complete public flop after the figures show that hardly anyone turns up. Don’t blame the public however, why waste your money on a safari park that doesn’t have much safari to see. A couple of African nations must have heard about the government’s VIP food banquet bonanza and decided to bunk out of any deals to send over any of ‘their’ rare animals. If you are lucky, you may see a chimpanzee, a bird going ‘jeep-jeep’ and a big parrot saying ‘Sawatdee-Krap’. As for the giraffes however; the last news I heard about them was that they had gone berserk at the prospect of being served with potatoes and carrots, hurdled the safari fence and ‘fled the scene’- never to be seen again. Or may be not, perhaps they will be spotted being walked along Pattaya beach next year by a few more scruffy looking beggars, asking tourists to buy some grass for its mouth.

And on the subject of Africa, there is much to say about stereotype in Thailand (just like anywhere I guess) and our friends from Africa are no exception. A couple of years back, I had the job of taking a bunch of school girls down to Khao Kiew Open Zoo in Chonburi province. Just as I was there, the kids were excited by the zoo’s banners reading ‘Africa Theme Month’. Wondering what the heck they meant by that, I was soon to witness loads of African guys dressed up in some Zulu outfits, waving their swords and shields at passer-by buses while chasing the animals from one tree to the other. Could imagine hundreds of protests if they put on a show like that back in Farangland! Of course, it looked like just one big joke and to the kids it was – they loved it. By the way, Khao Kiew Open Zoo is a great park and would thoroughly recommend it.

(“Should i gap-gap or quack-quack?”)

Who needs to go to some wildlife park in Thailand, when any old house in some rural village has an array of ever-friendly animals? If you are invited to stay at a house in the countryside, be well-prepared for one of the big cocks to give its rendition of ‘Eggy-eggy-aek’ at 4 o’clock in the morning. Then, at the sight of your scary white ghost-like Farang face popping out for a morning coffee, the local dogs will get the fright of their lives, jump for your ankles and go into a bout of ‘hao-hao-hao-hao’. And… as a man, do be careful of the local country ducks. You are warned, our beaked friends don’t have the best of senses or eye-sight. You may be sat at a table, wearing yer shorts and reading a newspaper – but if one of the ducks comes wobbling under the table singing ‘gap-gap’ – you may be in for one very nasty experience if it mistakenly snaps at your ‘privates’ thinking they’re some kind of imported Farang fish’!

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