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WFFT Speaks Out Against Disney’s Promotion of Cruel Wildlife Performances in Thailand, Where Orangutans Are Forced to Kiss and Fondle Tourists

Disney’s promotion of unethical wildlife attractions in Thailand could set back decades of conservation work that has fought to educate tourists on why it’s never OK to exploit wildlife for entertainment.


An infamous Thai zoo condemned for its cruelty to orangutans has been promoted this week by the Disney-owned Jimmy Kimmel show and the actor Halle Bailey, star of Disney’s upcoming The Little Mermaid remake.

At Safari World in Bangkok, Thailand, visitors can pay to pose with tigers, watch elephants perform tricks, and even see orangutans fight each other in a boxing ring. The zoo has faced sustained criticism from animal welfare groups, and was at the centre of one of the world’s largest cases of great ape smuggling when it had 115 of its orangutans seized by wildlife police back in 2004. 

Now footage from one of the zoo’s controversial attractions was shown this week during a segment on the Jimmy Kimmel Live! show, which is broadcast by the Disney-owned ABC. In the broadcasted clip, a female tourist at the Safari World zoo can be seen being hugged and kissed by a captive orangutan as part of a photo opportunity. Then, under the direction of the zoo’s staff, the orangutan also fondles the tourist’s breasts. The clip is met with laughter and applause from Kimmel’s live studio audience. 


In a separate incident this week, Halle Bailey, set to star as Ariel in Disney’s upcoming remake of The Little Mermaid, posted about her recent visit to Safari World on social media. 

In pictures posted to Instagram, Bailey can be seen hugging an orangutan, bottle-feeding an infant tiger cub, and posing next to an elephant. 

There are now fears that such endorsements by Jimmy Kimmel, Halle Bailey, and Disney could influence tourists into supporting controversial wildlife attractions that campaigners say cause immense suffering to animals. 


Captive orangutans are often abused physically and mentally in order to be trained to ‘perform’ tricks and obey commands, says animal welfare groups. Infant orangutans are almost always taken away from their mother, where they will be forced to live in unnatural conditions for the rest of their lives. The demand for captive orangutans is also said to fuel the hunting of the animals in the wild. All three species of orangutan are listed by the IUCN as Critically Endangered. 

“Many of us know Disney’s timeless creations like Bambi, Dumbo, and Ariel, who inspire a love for animals and wildlife that spans generations”, says a spokesperson for Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand (WFFT). “Sadly, that is what makes it all the more disappointing that Disney has been involved with promoting cruel orangutan performances in Thailand this week. As one of the world’s biggest media companies, Disney’s promotion of unethical wildlife attractions in Thailand could set back decades of conservation work that has fought to educate tourists on why it’s never OK to exploit wildlife for entertainment.” 

Education is key to help tourists understand the dangers and cruelty that wildlife faces as part of unethical wildlife tourism. At WFFT we have been campaigning for over twenty years on how such wildlife attractions not only force wild animals into a lifetime of unnatural captivity, but also helps to fuel the illegal wildlife trade. 

Our sanctuary in Phetchaburi, Thailand is home to over 700 animals, many of whom have been rescued from tragic circumstances. We publicly invite Mr. Kimmel and Miss. Halle to visit us, see the animals, and hear their stories. Together, we can help end the exploitation of wild animals for tourist entertainment.

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