Nha Trang is one of the most beautiful beach resorts that the diverse country of Vietnam has to offer. Golden beaches stretching for miles lined with tropical palms draw thousands of tourists, both from the West but also from Asia as well.
But what you don’t expect from this idyllic location is the darker issue of animal cruelty for tourist purposes, which is rife in the country, and many other areas of Asia.
Along with exports of rice, the economy of Vietnam relies heavily upon the steadily increasing influx of tourists and since the Vietnam War has ended the country has been doing its best to transform its image from a war torn land of despair to the former glory that it once was.
Vietnam has an abundance of natural beauty and many areas of interest for tourists yet the tourist board is constantly looking for new ways to attract and keep attracting more and more visitors.
A solution to this need is the investment in tours and excursions, using the natural resources available. River cruises along the Mekong Delta, jeep rides to the incredible sand dunes of Mui Ne and daily bus tours to the historical ruins of My Son are top of the excursions however not content with exploiting the natural beauty the tour operators are answering to the demands of tourists and have began to worrying exploit their animals as well.
A tour that I took when I visited Nha Trang was sold to me as the ‘Three Island Tour’ and promised a relaxing and enjoyable afternoon cruising around three separate islands.
For the embarrassingly small fee of the equivalent of £6, I boarded a small boat along with 30 other tourists, including surprisingly only one other Western couple.
The boat ride was heavenly and I was looking forward to exploring our first of the ‘three islands’ however what I witnessed when we arrived was not what I had first expected.
We were taken to a large pen full of saddled ostriches. We were actively encouraged to pay a small supplement in exchange for a ride on these shabby looking birds. At least half of the group took part, excited at this novelty and no doubt the excellent photograph opportunity.
After this bizarre section of the tour we were then taken to the second island where there was an opportunity to buy pellets and feed tame deer which were roaming the island freely. This was a hit with the tourists and I must admit it was a great experience to get so close to these notoriously shy animals.
Until, three of the tour staff jumped on a young buck, pinned it to the ground whist a fourth member of staff began to saw at its partially grown antlers with a hand saw.
The staff assured me that this was for the safety of the tourists but I could see that some of the guests on the tour were physically distressed at the casual manner that this somewhat heavy handed practice was taking place, especially as the buck was making loud, distressed noises.
The final island of the three really forced me to question what I had paid for and what causes my money was actually funding.
The third or ‘monkey island’ as it was called was inhabited by hundreds of monkeys who were roaming freely around the area, and clearly weren’t intimidated by the tourists. In fact, in an obscure role reversal several tourists were intimated by the confidence of the monkeys, especially when they jumped onto people’s shoulders and made swipes at cameras and other belongings.
The finale of the tour found us all gathered around an outdoor arena surrounded by benches where we were to sit, ready to witness the ‘animal show.’
Black bears with muzzles and wearing fez hats cycled around on tiny bicycles, which were attached to them by a chain around their necks and small monkeys dressed in tracksuits performed tricks such as tightrope walking and handstands.
Dogs, goats and more monkeys performed in this bizarre and distressing show, all the while being applauded and received by hoots of laughter from the audience.
The finale of the show involved a sorry looking elephant, chained at the foot balancing on a stool on one leg.
For me this was enough, and whilst the rest of the tourists were taking photos and tipping the animal trainers I walked around to the back of the area and saw more animals chained up in cages.
In Vietnam, practices and shows of this kind are the norm and provide impressive entertainment and a great way of making money and as the tourism increases I fear shows of this kind are only going to increase too.
Its obvious that the animals are mistreated but it is a case of clashing culture as in the East animals are not regarded or protected in the same way as the West.
The issue is a sensitive one as, to a westerner like myself I was appalled at the sights I was seeing, however clearly the tours sell well and the novelty of seeing animals perform in this way pulls in the tourist and allows the people of Vietnam to make a living for themselves as well as helping the countries economy. I wholly support the people who are attempting to escape the poverty they live in, yet we have to ask ourselves at what point does the ends justify the means, and whether the mistreatment of these animals is really the only solution.
Article by Lauren Probert