What is welfare?
Animal welfare concerns the human-animal relationship and the duty we have to treat animals responsibly and humanely. The exact definition of animal welfare is debated, but in general terms covers the animal's health, mental states and the opportunity the captive animal is presented to perform natural behaviour.
Depending on which of these three aspects of welfare are considered more important, animal welfare can be perceived, implemented and assessed very differently.
In our work and research, we established a welfare framework that considers each of these three areas in equal parts. We use the Five Domains model in place of the Five Freedoms as this approach focuses more on promoting the positive aspects of welfare as well as more accurately taking into account the subjective experience (negative and positive) of the animal, in this case, tigers.
You can read more on this in our reports.
Using the Five Domains to assess tiger welfare
The Five Domains Model promotes a positive approach to welfare through assessing the subjective experience of the tiger:
Nutrition: To provide access to clean water and a species-appropriate diet that promotes and maintains full health minimising hunger and thirst.
Environment: To provide shelter, suitable housing, quality air and comfortable resting areas while minimising discomfort.
Physical Health: To prevent or quickly treat disease and injury, promote good muscle tone and overall body health minimising pain.
Behaviour: To provide adequate space alongside tiger-specific facilities, varied living conditions and company to promote positive engagement in activities and minmising behavioural restrictions
Mental State: To provide safe, tiger-specific opportunities to have pleasurable experiences including a sense of control over the environment.
Varied diet (i.e. beef/chicken/horse)
Additional supplements where required
Food is provided at different times
Food is provided in varying ways
Food amount is specific to each tiger
Clean and/or running water is always available
No variation, the same meat
Nutritional requirements not met
Food is provided at the same time Food is provided in the same place
Not enough/too much food is given
Access to water is not consistent
Large enclosure allowing full movement
Hiding places available (cave/den)
Pond deep enough to submerge/swim
Platforms or levels
Varied substrates (dirt, sand, grass)
No enclosure/small cage
Constant exposure to the public
No pond or space to cool
Housed on concrete
Exposure to traffic/crowds/PA
Unhygenic - rubbish/faeces
No human applied injuries
No signs of inbreeding
No signs of injury
No signs of pain
Excellent body condition appropriate to age/sex of tiger
Human applied injury (i.e declawing)
Evidence of inbreeding (i.e. deformities)
Signs of pain
Underweight, obese or poor skin/coat condition
Positive behaviours observed
Positive/friendly response to humans
Full enrichment program
Protected contact only
Fearful/agressive response to humans
No enrichment program
Hand-on interactions with unfamiliar people
This section takes into account all of the above four function or physical Domains and acknowledges the tiger's experience through these other domains
Nutrition provides pleasurable experiences when eating/drinking
Physical Health provides high functionality, good vitality and fitness
Environment provides comfort in all sensory capacities including thermal, respiratory, olfactory, social living etc
Behaviour provides positive experiences promoting natural behaviours such as foraging, hunting, scent marking as well as encouraging curious, energised and confident tigers
Nutrition offers negative experiences such as thirst or malnutrition
Physical Health offers negative experiences including pain and sickness
Environment offers discomfort, pain, lack of ability to perform natural behaviours or control the living environment
Behaviour only elicits negative responses such as agnostic, appetitive or frustrated behaviours as well as fear, boredom and helplessness
Tiger interactions are common around Thailand
But what are the different interactions and how do they affect the tigers' welfare?
What it entails:
Cub feeding is very popular in Thai venues as tiger cubs are small and cute. They're also easy to handle. However, in order to be available to the public they are removed from their mothers at a young age to habituate them to humans. Cub feeding usually involves cubs anywhere from the age of 2 weeks through to 8 to 10 months old. These cubs are kept in public places, which are often loud and bottle fed repeatedly throughout the day but a large number of tourists.
Cubs need a lot of sleep but are forced to stay awake creating stress
Cubs are removed from tigress early causing potential mental/physical health problems to occur
Cubs are exposed to numerous people increasing risk of disease i.e diarrhea
Use of milk replacers can cause eye problems
What it entails:
Photos with a tiger is a popular activity around Thailand. Tourists can interact and sit with tigers of varying sizes from small cubs through to fully grown adults. Depending on the facility, tigers are loose in an enclosure or chained to a platform. Tourists sit behind the tiger to pose and pat it for a photograph. Once the tiger is no longer compliant for these photo opportunities, it is removed from the public and replaced with a younger, more controllable tiger.
Tigers are often trained using abusive/punishment-based techniques
Tigers are restrained and unable to perform natural behaviours
Often live in over-crowded conditions
Tigers are exposed to unfamiliar people and loud, stressful environments
Once out of the public eye, tigers suffer from further poor welfare
What it entails:
Tigers shows are still available in Thailand with at least three venues offering such a display. These shows force the tigers to perform a number of unnatural behaviours such as talking on the hind legs, using a tight rope and even jumping through hoops of fire. Training of these behaviours is abusive with tigers often starved in order to force them to comply.
Many of the tricks are bad for the tigers body causing pain
Show tigers are declawed and defanged
Tigers are starved and beaten to perform
Shows take place in stressful, loud environments
Understanding the differences between tiger facility types in Thailand
There are a number of different types of public facilities holding tigers in Thailand. Here's a quick guide to help you tell them apart when choosing where to visit and see tigers on your holidays. Not all facilities will fit into one category - there is often overlap so trust your gut!