Troubled tigers

Celebrating International Tiger Day with some hard-hitting facts, as the author points out the inherent hypocrisy involved in tiger shows and entertainment centres in Thailand perpetuating untold cruelty upon tigers, all for the entertainment of man.

In 2016, 147 tigers were seized from the Tiger Temple in Thailand that has been notoriously known for its inbreeding of tigers and practicing hazardous methods on wild cats to attract tourists from all over the world. However, three years later, in 2019, 86 of the rescued tigers have died, the government officials noted. As per the Thai government, a viral disease due to inbreeding of the tigers has been the cause of death.

Despite this, since then, Thailand continues to be a hotspot tourist hub that uses various animals of the wild to attract tourists from all over the world. The country has also been known to continue to use inhumane activities on wildlife, especially tigers to continue attract tourists.


Tigers in a cage


On July 29, every year, the world dedicates the day to the tiger population, celebrating International Tigers Day or Global Tigers Day with pride and fervour. The magnificent wild cats, predominantly found in Asiatic landscapes, are considered as pride, especially in India, where the species is considered to be the national animal of the country. However, as much as India treasure their big cats, Indian tourists have also had their fair share in contributing to animal cruelty in tourism sector in Thailand, as per World Animal Protection reports.

According to World Animal Protection March 2019 report, between the ages 26-45, India ranks alarmingly highest with 50 percentage, contributing to Thailand tourism. Though animal entertainment activity has decreased overall versus 2016, actual tourist attending at least one animal activity remains similar, at 8 in 10 overseas tourists. Those not attending any animal activity but actual mentions of activities being seen unethical is very low however.


Posing with Tigers:

A tourist couple sits on a bench in an entertainment centre as the husband hugs his wife while she is feeding a tiger cub with a milk bottle. While the cub, which is only seen half active, is drinking from the bottle, a uniformed man snatches the bottle from the drowsy cub, tosses it into a tiny, barren cage and shuts it. The tourists are then shown to be thanking the guides. This is a scene from a video posted by the World Animal Protection UK, filming the mishandling of tigers to pose with tourists in Thailand.


A tiger chained all day long on a concrete slab, with no food or water so tourists can click pictures

Just for a photo, the cubs at Thai entertainment centres are separated from their mothers at a very early age, as much as 2-3 weeks after being born. Mishandled throughout the day, these cubs become victims of stress and injury. Furthermore, they are also punished to change their aggressive and unnecessary behaviour by using fear and pain, even to the extent that the cubs are put to starve when they make a mistake.

Made to live in tiny concrete cages in less than 20 square metres, these tigers have limited access to fresh water and spacious land that they are used to by roaming in the jungles spread across acres of land. According to World Animal Protection, one in ten tigers observed showed behavioural problems, such as repetitive pacing or biting their tails. These behaviours most commonly occur when animals could not cope with stressful environments.


Tiger in Thailand

As per the official number, from the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation of Thailand, there are 1,570 captive tigers in the country as of 2019. “It can be safely said that the wild cats are being bred, where a new visit to a venue would see an occurrence of tiger calves with the tourists,” says Somsak Soonthornawaphat of World Animal Protection.

“Our last visited to a tiger venue was in February and there were new tiger calves too, that’s the sign that the breeding still happens on a regular basis; and it’s currently not illegal to do so, as long as they have a permit.”

Contribution from Indian tourists

For long, Indians have been known to be one of the main tourists to Thailand and with that being said, the incidence of negative entertainment derived from animal cruelty, including posing a photo with a tiger, is at 67 percentage, where the Indian respondents have agreed to have planned and undertaken the activity. Furthermore, at a shocking point, India tops at 49 percentage, along with US and Thailand in reasons for undertaking such activities as ‘for fun’, (which is a significant increase by 62 percentage of Indians who ‘Enjoyed’ posing photo with tiger versus 2016), followed by at 17 percentage for ‘I want my children to enjoy this’ and 13 percentage as part of package tour.

Though Indian tourists have been notoriously known to be giving great patronage to taking photos with tiger in Thailand, it has been revealed that, word of mouth and recommendations from friends have been an important factor in this rampant tourist activity. About 41 percent of tourists have been guided by their friends to partake taking photos with tigers and cubs, the report says.


Tiger in Thailand chained on slabs

Despite that, at a good note, posing for a photo with tiger by India in 2019 has decreased by 14 percentage versus 2016, however, tourists with tour operators are more likely to undertake activity is relatively higher at 18 percentage. But this does not hide the fact that India has also been a forerunner in witnessing cruelty to wild animals in captivity, a trend that has been on a constant rise for past few years. Accompanying China and Thailand, India is all above the global average for the ‘unethical’ statements, including, using wild animals in entertainment helps protect them, training wild animals for entertainment use does not involve any suffering for the animals, and if wild animal performance is part of local culture, it should be preserved, even if animals suffer.

What can be done to improve this?

Significantly, a large number of tourists assume that the wildlife activities that take place reflect the culture of the land and thus, have to be preserved and encouraged. Hence, communicating messages that centre on the fact that seeing such animals is not natural; doesn’t get you closer or learn about them; and is not a reflection of culture is recommended. Also, clarity around what are positive interactions can be improved and encourage tourists to be more active in pushing negative word of mouth should be a priority.


Speaking to Shubhobroto Ghosh of World Animal Protection, the threat to tigers in Thailand will put the tigers in India in an upfront danger, especially when it is the national animal of India. “We want the cruelty against the wild cats to stop. We are also going to appeal to the G20 countries to put a ban on such harmful activities on tigers,” he observes. Shubhobroto also says that the danger of a human being getting involved with tigers while posing for photos are aplenty and for the good of both sides, such tourist activities should be on ban.

According to Somsak Soonthornawaphat, “We are proposing an amendment to the existing law–Wild Animal Reservation and Protection Act, B.E. 2562–which would put a ban on captive tiger breeding. Our current stage is that we’ve already submitted the draft amendment to the Thai parliament, then we’re going to deliver 10,000 supporter’s signatures to them on 29 July (World Tiger Day). After that, the draft will go through legal procedures which we will engage and lobby more heavily.”


Image Credits : World Animal Protection ( all photos including the cover image ).

About the Author /

Anusha Sundar is a Tamil Nadu based journalist and writes on environment, gender, culture and mental health.


  • Radhika rao

    July 12, 2021

    Why is the author focussing on Indian tourists? Are Indians alone responsible? Entire world visits Thailand. Thailand is not only treating tigers badly also elephants are subjected to cruality which is their national animal. Please focus on solving the problem rather than focussing on Indians.

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