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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

Enrichment program

Varied substrates (dirt, sand, grass)

Natural sounds

Regular cleaning



No enclosure/small cage

Constant exposure to the public

No pond or space to cool

Single level

No enrichment

Housed on concrete

Exposure to traffic/crowds/PA

Unhygenic - rubbish/faeces


Physical Health


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



Negative/abnormal behaviours

Fearful/agressive response to humans

No enrichment program

Hand-on interactions with unfamiliar people


Mental State

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?

Cub Feeding

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.


Welfare implications:

  • 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


Tiger Selfies

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.


Welfare implications:

  • 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

Tiger Shows


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.


Welfare implications:

  • 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!

Tiger Farm

- Prioritises income

- Emphasis on breeding tigers for profit

- Directly engages in commerical trade of tiger products

- Always has many cubs

- Tigers are usually hybrids

- Often evidence of inbreeding (colour variants/physical deformities)

- Small, inappropriate living spaces

- Predominantly concrete flooring

- Overcrowding of living spaces

- Minimal vet care



Poor welfare

Zoo for profit

- Prioritises entertainment and income

- Breeds tigers but not as part of a recognised breeding program

- Tigers are often over-bred to have cubs for tourist appeal

- Always has tiger cubs

- Often has evidence of inbreeding

- Excess tigers can be sold or traded to other facilities

- Tigers are often hybrids

- Often engages in hands on tourist-tiger interactions

- Small living spaces that don't meet the tiger's needs

- Minimal vet care


Little welfare understanding

Non-Profit Zoo

- Prioritises conservation and welfare education to the public

- Some breed tigers as part of a legitimate breeding program

- Trades/borrows tigers with other zoos for breeding

- Often operated by a non-profit organisation

- Enclosures are tiger-specific but still appeal to the public for viewing

- Does not offer hands-on interactions but may include behind-the-scenes protected contact encounters

- On-site vets


Good welfare understanding


- Prioritises tiger welfare

- No tiger breeding

- Care for tigers that are neglected/abused/abandoned

- Tigers are kept for life

- Acquires tigers through confiscations, tigers from zoos/owners that have closed down

- Tigers are never traded or purchased

- No public contact with tigers

- Limited visiting and guided tours only

- Mostly adult tigers

- Replicates tiger-specific environments

- Full enrichment prgram

- On-call vets

Good welfare

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