Cuddly or cruel? Wild animal cafes draw in visitors, critics.

Originally published Channel NewsAsia on July 

Forget cat cafes. There are some places now in Bangkok where you can cuddle a lynx, fennec or meerkat along with your cup of coffee. The owners insist that these are all taken care of well, but critics don't see much purpose in these.

TRANSCRIPT

In a shophouse in Bangkok’s bustling commercial district, there’s a cafe where cats and dogs are living together quite literally - and numerous more exotic cohorts.

This wild animal cafe belongs to Miss Wachiraporn Arampibulphol, who opened this downtown branch last year after the popularity of another one in the outskirts of Bangkok. 

"I’ve been looking after these exotic animals since I was in high school and there were more and more of them. So I decided to show others how to take care of them etc," says Wachiraporn, while she was cuddling with a herd of chihuahua dogs. "After I opened this place, I realized that this can be turned into a pet cafe, because so many people are interested and some only want to see and play with one of them."

Pet cafes are nothing new in Asia, or anywhere else for that matter. However in Bangkok in the past few years we’ve seen more cafes where you can interact with wild animals. Animal advocates however are raising concerns and criticism.

There are at least 20 different species here on display like fennecs, silver foxes, meerkats and chinchilla mice - but the owners insist that none are there around clock, none of them are endangered and all are properly licensed. 

And while most of the animals are used to human contact, critics say that having them roaming around in a cafe is not the right place.

"They basically say that these are not wild animals, they say that they are pets. They don’t see the difference between a [inaudible] and a dog or a house cat or rabbit. For them it’s the same thing," says Edwin Wiek, the founder and director Wildlife Friends Foundations Thailand. "They also reason that by interacting with these animals, they will understand and get to know these endangered animals much more - which of course isn’t true, because what do you learn from interacting with an wild animal inside a living room? There’s no natural behaviour whatsoever. So the educational value is definitely not there."

But that doesn’t seem to deter the visitors, both tourists and locals alike.

"Yeah, it seems like it - I mean they give the foxes a little break in between people going in to make sure they’re not overwhelmed, and the food is also really good," says Kimmya, an American tourist. Her friend Lauren agrees: "Yeah, I mean, it seems like they’re really taking good care of their animals and facilities are really clean, good temperatured air condition, yeah…"

"Yes, I think I can see that the staff love the animals very much, 'cause they’re caring the animals and cuddling them," says Lyn from Singapore.

Whether these wild animals cafes are educational or purely for entertainment, it is evident that these little creatures will continue to draw attention from all places.

Saksith Saiyasombut, Channel NewsAsia, Bangkok