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World Animal Protection exposes the true scale of Thailand’s tiger selfie tourism

July 27, 2016 Destination Thailand / Mekong No Comments Email Email

392513In the wake of the recent scandal and closure of Thailand’s Tiger Temple, World Animal Protection exposes the true scale of abuse of captive tigers at the hands of Thailand’s tiger tourism industry, ahead of International Tiger Day (Friday, July 29).

World Animal Protection’s new report, ‘Tiger selfies exposed: a portrait of Thailand’s tiger entertainment industry’ is the first comprehensive study of the tiger entertainment industry in Thailand.

The global nonprofit uncovers a fast-expanding tiger tourism industry with a third (33%) more captive tigers in Thailand in the last five years. At the time of our investigations in 2015 and the beginning of 2016, there were 830 tigers in captivity at entertainment venues, compared to the 623 in Thailand when we first researched this issue in 2010.

Tiger entertainment venues are increasingly popular attractions where tourists can get up close and personal for a ‘once in a lifetime’ encounter with a wild tiger in captivity. Besides indicating a worrying trend in the growing numbers of captive tigers, the report also evidences the intensity of the cruelty involved in tigers being made submissive enough to entertain tourists.


Captive tiger at a tourist facility in Thailand. World Animal Protection believes that wild animals belong in the wild and should not be used for our entertainment.

The main welfare concerns witnessed by the investigators at these tourist venues were:

  • Tiger cubs who are separated from their mothers, two to three weeks after they are born.
  • Young cubs being presented to tourists and constantly viewed and mishandled hundreds of times a day, which can lead to stress and injury.
  • Tigers being punished using pain and fear in order to stop aggressive, unwanted behavior. One staff member told our researchers that starvation is used to punish the tigers when they make a ‘mistake’.
  • Most tigers were housed in small concrete cages or barren enclosures with limited access to fresh water. 50% of the tigers we observed were in cages with less than 20 square meters per animal, a far cry from the 16-32 kilometers they would roam in a single night in the wild.
  • One in ten (12%) of the tigers we observed showed behavioral problems, such as repetitive pacing or biting their tales. These behaviors most commonly occur when animals feel they cannot cope with stressful environments or situations.

Of all of the seventeen major tiger entertainment venues we investigated in Thailand, it was Sriracha Tiger Zoo in Pattaya that has the highest number of tigers in captivity. This venue is also the one where World Animal Protection observed the poorest conditions; at least one tiger there was so thin the hips and ribs were visible.

Julie Middelkoop, Head of the Wildlife – Not Entertainers campaign at World Animal Protection, says: “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.

“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.”

World Animal Protection is calling for:

  • Governments worldwide to investigate tiger entertainment venues and close down those that show evidence of illegal trade, cruelty, or neglect
  • TripAdvisor and other travel companies to end their sales and promotion of cruel wildlife entertainment attractions
  • Travelers to stay away from any wildlife tourist entertainment venues that allow direct human-animal interaction, such as hugging and selfies with tigers.

Middelkoop continues: “TripAdvisor, the largest travel site in the world, continues to promote and sell tickets to cruel tiger tourist venues. They could be a real part of the solution and help to end the suffering of tigers.”

To learn more, visit World Animal Protection’s website.

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