- Around 830 tigers are estimated to occur in captivity in Thailand’s tiger entertainment venues, the WAP team found, up from 623 tigers in 2010.
- Tourists are encouraged to get close to tigers at tiger entertainment venues and take selfies with tiger cubs separated from their mothers just two to three weeks after birth, the report claims.
- These young cubs are “mishandled hundreds of times a day”, leading to stress and injury.
Getting close up and personal with a tiger can be exciting. But the reality behind tiger tourism is often grim, a new investigation has revealed.
The tiger entertainment industry in Thailand, for example, is replete with stories of animal abuse and cruelty, according to a recent report by the World Animal Protection (WAP). This report claims to be the first comprehensive study of the tiger entertainment industry in Thailand.
Around 830 tigers are estimated to occur in captivity in Thailand’s tiger entertainment venues, the WAP team found, up from 623 tigers in 2010.
Of the 17 major tiger entertainment venues that the WAP team visited in 2015 and early 2016, the Tiger Temple and Sriracha Tiger Zoo had the most number of tigers in the poorest conditions. The Tiger Temple, in particular, has been embroiled in controversy for a while now.
In May this year, for example, police and wildlife officials found 40 dead tiger cubs in a freezer at the temple at various stages of decay. Following growing animal welfare concerns, wildlife authorities removed all 137 tigers from the temple.
The WAP team observed that tourists are encouraged to get close to tigers at the entertainment venues and take selfies with tigers. These include tiger cubs separated from their mothers just two to three weeks after birth. The report claims that these young cubs are then presented to tourists and “mishandled hundreds of times a day”, leading to stress and injury.
At Sriracha Tiger Zoo, for example, the team observed that 10 to 20 tiger cubs were being kept all day in small cages in a room. Hundreds of visitors visited these cages daily and paid for selfies with the cubs or fed them with milk bottles.
“It is very worrying that at the time of our research, 207 more tigers were abused for tourist entertainment than there were 5 years ago,” Julie Middelkoop, Head of the Wildlife – Not Entertainers campaign at World Animal Protection, said in a statement. “We’re asking tourists to think about the welfare of the tigers, and we’re calling on the travel industry to stop promoting and profiting from tiger cruelty. If you can get up close to, hug, or have a selfie with a tiger, the attraction is cruel. Don’t go.”
“Speed-breeding” is also a common practice at many of these entertainment venues, the investigation found. Removing cubs from the mothers in the first few weeks allows the female to start breeding again sooner, the report notes, leading to greater numbers of litter per female.
Two tiger entertainment venues — Sriracha Tiger Zoo and Samui Aquarium and Tiger Zoo — also offer circus-style tiger performances for visitors, such as jumping through burning hoops.
Tigers at tourist entertainment venues are typically kept in extremely poor conditions, the investigation found. Many tigers, for instance, are held in small enclosures, with limited access to fresh water. Some tigers develop behavioral problems, including stress-induced repetitive pacing or biting their tails. To stop unwanted, aggressive behavior, the tigers are often punished using pain and fear, the report notes. Tigers are also allegedly “starved” when they make a “mistake”.
World Animal Protection wants governments to investigate their tiger entertainment venues and shut them down if those show evidence of illegal trade or cruelty. WAP is also calling for travel companies like TripAdvisor to stop the sales and promotion of these wildlife entertainment outlets.
“TripAdvisor, the largest travel site in the world, continues to promote and sell tickets to cruel tiger tourist venues,” Middlekoop said. “They could be a real part of the solution and help to end the suffering of tigers.”