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Phuket’s Soi Bangla declared “iguana free’ zone

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PATONG, PHUKET:  Following complaints from tourists and animal rights activists, Kathu Police Superintendent Arayapan Pukbuakhao has declared Patong an ‘Iguana Free Zone’.

“Many tourists complained about iguana handlers putting the reptiles on them without permission, especially on Soi Bangla. Some tourists got scratched when the handlers pulled them off. NGOs have also complained about the practice,” he told the Gazette.

For years iguana handlers have made a living in the area by having tourists pose with the reptiles and snapping pictures of them for a charge.

Other animals used for this purpose over the years by ‘photo touts’ have included gibbons, pythons and sea eagles.

Although the law carries stiff penalties for illegal possession of wildlife – with up to four years imprisonment possible – enforcement has always been sporadic in Patong.

There have also been incidents of violence between tourists and iguana handlers, including the stabbing of a Syrian tourist in October last year.

Soon after taking up his post in February, Col Arayaphan ordered a crackdown.

All iguana handlers were arrested and the reptiles have been turned over to a government wildlife conservation agency, he said.

Col Arayaphan also wants bar owners along Soi Bangla to employ less aggressive tactics to lure customers into their establishments.

“After Songkran I will talk to them about having staff who try to physically pull tourists into their bars,” he said.

The tactic is a long-standing practice used by bar hostesses in Patong and other parts of Thailand with tourist-oriented adult entertainment.

— Atchaa Khamlo

 

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