Dr. Sarawut Srisakuna CEO of Chiang Mai Night Safari is commonly, spotted (no pun intended) in the local society pages sporting his signature outfits of animal print attire. With years of experience working for the government in natural resources and a PhD in social science, he was appointed as CEO of the Night Safari when it opened six years ago. The Night Safari is run as a non-profit government organisation, which Dr. Sarawut says has the main pursuit of making people happy.
Citylife: What are the main attractions at the moment?
Dr. Sarawut: The rare white tigers, we have 13. In other places it is hard to get them to breed, but here they are well cared for so we’ve had quite a few babies.
Citylife: How many visitors do you receive per day?
Dr. Sarawut: In the high season around 1500 to 2000 people. In the green, or low, season around 600 to 700 people and 1000 people at the weekends.
Citylife: Where do the visitors come from?
Dr. Sarawut: Seventy five percent of our customers are Thai. The remaining are from all over [the world].
Citylife: How much does the running of the Night Safari cost?
Dr. Sarawut: Around 12 million baht per month, money goes on general upkeep and the 350 employee’s wages.
Citylife: Can you tell us about future plans for the Night Safari?
Dr. Sarawut: In October we will have the musical fountains on again, with new music and animations. A huge ball house will be built in Children World, and there will be more activities such as ping pong, racing cars and a merry-go-round. We have created games which parents and children can enjoy together.
Citylife: What’s this we have heard about a magic show? And does this really fit with your concept?
Dr. Sarawut: We now have a new magic show. The concept of the Night Safari is a theme park, not a zoo, so it’s important to entertain people, like Disneyland, we have lots on offer.
Citylife: How do you attract repeat visitors?
Dr. Sarawut: By having a variety of new stuff all the time and by bringing in new animals, we recently took some albino porcupines under our wing.
Citylife: Can you tell us what you know about the rumours for a Formula One (F1) race track?
Dr. Sarawut: I have also only heard rumours. I think having a F1 race track here would have positive benefits on tourism and business in Chiang Mai. Though if it’s built near the Night Safari they would need to make sure they build a wall or some protection which would shelter us from noise and other effects. The Ministry of Tourism and Sports is discussing it. I have heard it could be built somewhere in Mae Hia, Sankampaeng, around the 700 Year Stadium or Doi Saket.
Citylife: Environmentalists are concerned about the Night Safari and Royal Flora using underground water from Suthep-Pui National Park that may not be sustainable, please can you tell me about the environmental effects of the Night Safari?
Dr. Sarawut: As for the Night Safari we have no problems with the environment. We have our own waste water treatment plant, we have an award-winning machine which destroys rubbish but doesn’t produce a harmful end product. I invite you to come, look and spend time at the Night Safari you can investigate how we run and we have nothing to hide.
Citylife: Where does your water come from?
Dr. Sarawut: We rely on a water supply from the government, it is basically piped tap water.
Citylife: What have been the Night Safari’s successes so far?
Dr. Sarawut: Our main goal is happiness. We want to make people happy and I think we have been successful at this.
Citylife: Did you ever have plans to serve ‘wild’ food?
Dr. Sarawut: We never planned to serve ‘wild’ food. But come on; when on a traditional safari in Kenya you eat zebra and when in Australia they eat kangaroo, it’s a pest there.
Citylife: There has been news about animals escaping from the zoo and animals dying, please can you tell us more?
Dr. Sarawut: When we opened six years ago and we transferred animals from Africa, some died from climate change. This was a very sad incident but we have been careful for it to not happen again.
Citylife: There were also rumours about a giraffe biting a visitor, is it true?
Dr. Sarawut: Actually it was a zebra, we have a warning sign telling people not to feed the zebra. This has been a challenge for us, as we do tours and signage in Thai, English or Chinese. Some visitors are not fluent in these languages and do not read the signs, so we are creating pictorial signs.
Citylife: What do you think about keeping animals in captivity?
Dr. Sarawut: I think ultimately it is better to let animals live in the wild. However, at present just because animals live in the wild doesn’t necessarily mean they are going to be safe or survive. Nowadays many wild animals are endangered from hunters or environmental issues, to be honest the animals have a more comfortable life here and it’s easy for them to have children, which conserves their species.
Citylife: I’ve seen pictures of tourists posing with very docile looking tigers at tourist places in Thailand, do you think they drug the animals?
Dr. Sarawut: We don’t use sleeping drugs, but some other places do. We had a foreign tiger researcher come to visit us; she saw how ours were slightly more playful and aggressive which shows they weren’t drugged. We train our tigers with rewards only, we don’t punish them. Though this means they can only do 50% of tricks that tigers who have been trained by punishment can do, but that is the compromise we make and I think it’s better.