A new report from wildlife charity, World Animal Protection (WAP), says that behind Thailand's tiger entertainment industry lies systematic cruelty that is only getting worse. Even with the closure and outcry over the country's 'Tiger temple', the number of captive tigers seems only to have increased.
WAP investigated 17 tiger entertainment venues in Thailand between March 2015 and June 2016, focusing on places where visitor-tiger interaction was a main part of the tourists' entertainment. During their first such report in 2010, WAP found around 623 tigers at the venues they investigated, this time that had risen to 830.
Along with the animals being caged and used as entertainment, the charity witnessed cubs being separated from their mothers, with young cubs being handed to tourists and regularly mishandled – often to take selfies.
The report states that most of the tigers were living in "severely inadequate conditions" - "concrete cages or barren enclosures, with limited access to fresh water." Out of the 17 venues, only six offered some form of 'environmental enrichment'. 12% of the tigers seen had behavioural problems, said WAP.
At one venue, a member of staff told the researchers that trainers would limit the tigers' food as punishment - "we can punish them by letting tiger starve", they were told. At the same venue, WAP said that tigers were pushed to perform circus-style tricks. According to the report: "None of these activities would be possible without training involving suffering being inflicted upon the animals, making them compliant enough to perform."
WAP said it is calling on the tourism industry to stop "profiting from tiger cruelty". The head of the Wildlife – Not Entertainers campaign, Julie Middelkoop, said: "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, hug or have a selfie with a tiger it's cruel and don't go."