Blind Magazine : photography at first sight
Photography at first sight
Visa Pour l’Image 2019: a chain around the paw

Visa Pour l’Image 2019: a chain around the paw

Mistreated animals, locked up in tiny cages, exhibited like circus animals before hordes of unscrupulous tourists… Such is the tragic reality captured by Kristen Luce in a moving report currently on display at the Église de Dominicains in Perpignan.
A macaque giving one of many daily performances. When the monkeys are not performing, they are kept in tiny individual cages. Signs state that they are transferred to a more comfortable area for the night after the school closes, but it is not true. Mae Rim Monkey School, Chiang Mai, Thailand © Kirsten Luce / National Geographic / NG Image Collection

They look dead, lying on a reinforced concrete floor behind thick bars. A dozen tigers languish in a cramped cage, waiting for their turn, for someone to come and get them so they can pose next to tourists who pay a handful of dollars for a souvenir photo with the wild beast. Do tourists realize that these animals are wasting away in horrible prisons? Do they know that their feet never tread the lush grass of a jungle, but rather the coldness of a cement floor on which they try to sleep somehow, to pass the time, to perhaps forget their condition as captive animals? These tigers photographed by Kirsten Luce in a zoo in Thailand illustrate the tragic reality of a trade that couldn’t care less about animal welfare and doesn’t hesitate to mistreat magnificent creatures to make a pitiful profit.


The photographer didn’t settle for simply making this observation. She manages to reveal all the absurdity of this practice and shows us how humans not only harm the animal, but then are capable of ridiculing it and taking away its dignity as well. Such is the case of a show in Russia in which the trainer, Grant Ibragimov, exhibits a huge brown bear dressed in a purple tutu. The beauty and the intrinsic power of the beast vanish under the pathos of the situation and the whole sight of it makes you want to cry while wondering how, in the 21st century, such cruel absurdity is still possible. Further away, also in Russia, Kirsten Luce discovers how some marine mammals such as dolphins are abused, dying after no more than a few months in a water park and then immediately replaced illegally by the owners. 

Gluay Hom, a four year-old male Asian elephant, has a broken leg and open sores on his face. He is housed beneath the stadium where the elephants perform. His was the worst case of neglect that we witnessed in the course of the month spent covering the elephant tourism industry in Thailand. Our fixer returned six months later (in December 2018) and found him still languishing there in the same condition. Samutprakarn Crocodile Farm and Zoo, on the outskirts of Bangkok, Thailand © Kirsten Luce / National Geographic / NG Image Collection

Sinister joy

This journey to hell doesn’t end there; what strikes the photographer above all, which she manages to capture so well, is the blindness of the tourists who enjoy this type of spectacle, those groups of people who don’t hesitate to have their picture taken in front of a wounded animal with no apparent regard for its health. We see their faces filled with a kind of sinister joy, thrilled to be able to take a selfie next to a magnificent beast with no concern for its state. When viewing Kirsten Luce’s report, one may perhaps feel that the intention is laudable: showing rare animals up close and highlighting their beauty. But one may also feel that the method is deplorable and that it contributes to the murder of wild animals.

A polar bear with trainer Yulia Denisenko. The Polar Bear Circus is thought to be the only circus in the world with performing polar bears. The entire show is on ice, and the bears are muzzled. Kazan, Russia. © Kirsten Luce / National Geographic / NG Image Collection

By Jean-Baptiste Gauvin

Kirsten Luce, “The Dark Side of Wildlife Tourism”

August 31 – September 15, 2019 

Église des Dominicains, 6 Rue François Rabelais, 66000 Perpignan

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