And a second unusual year draws to a close. Though the world did manage to open up to some extent, like 2020, this year has been far from normal. Some countries, such as the UK, opened up almost completely whereas others, like Thailand, did not.
As Thailand relies heavily on tourism as a source of income, the welfare of all captive animals with the country still suffer to varying degrees. Both this year, and last, we have been studying the effect of Covid on captive tiger welfare, and one of our trustees has a paper in publication on the subject. Following on from the lack of tourists, during this last year, a number of facilities holding tigers were forced to close due to lack of funds. And, while some of the tigers and animals displaced from these closures benefited and found better homes, the fate of many tigers remains unknown.
Zoo closures: Sriracha Tiger Zoo
Easily the most dramatic of the tiger zoo closures is that of Sriracha Tiger Zoo. One of the largest facilities in the country, at any one time there are around 400 tigers kept in substandard conditions. Additionally, many of these tigers participated in photo ops and interactions, had to rely on food from a Shoot ‘n Feed exhibit, or participated in the circus show.
Earlier in the year, the attraction had closed its doors claiming permanent closure only to reopen again some months later. However, in the final quarter of 2021, the facility once again announced its closure and this time it seems for good.
This is a positive step for tiger welfare in Thailand as Sriracha had one of the lowest welfare scores of any tiger facility in the country. It’s closure might discourage other facilities from growing to such a huge size simply to avoid the financial burden this causes. However, unfortunately, the fate of the 400 or so tigers is as yet unknown. There are no facilities large enough to take this many tigers, let alone provide them with good welfare. We can only speculate what will, or has happened to them.
Wild tigers and Nepal
Tigers weren’t just suffering in Thailand, but other countries too. Though are focus is on Thailand, in August a Nepalese group reached out to us for aid. They had a wild-caught male tiger in their care but nowhere to house him. Unfortunately, this old tiger was a man-eater and unable to be re-released after his capture - you can read more about his story here. As such, they required aid and funding to finish building an enclosure for the tiger to use.
So, as a special side project, we provided funding for this enclosure to enable this old tiger somewhere to live for his final years. Sadly, before the project was completed the tiger died. After this, the enclosure was completed however, and stands ready to be used for other animals. In fact, a tigress that attacked a human was captured not long after and was able to be transferred directly to the new area.
For us though, this situation is still very much a bitter sweet one. It’s one thing to improve the conditions of captive tigers, those who have known no other life. But it’s something else entirely to provide a significantly smaller area for a wild-caught tiger. As such, this enclosure is far from adequate for a tiger used to roaming free and we would rather this enclosure never had to be used at all.
Temple tigers and chicken
During 2020, our ability to help the Tiger Temple tigers was severely reduced. The enclosures that were built at the end of 2019 were left unused. However, this year, things were a little different.
Happily for us, the Department of National Parks (DNP) did open up a little allowing some visitation at the end of the year. We were able to see the state of the 2019 enclosures, the tigers using the ponds, the trees settling well and the grass growing throughout. However, the DNP were struggling through budget cuts, reduced to feeding the tigers in their care on chicken carcasses only.
So, from October, we have been donating a weekly food drop of full chickens to both facilities so that the tigers can get a better
diet. This is continuing on for 12 weeks up to the New Year. After this however, we’re very hopeful that we can them move forward to discussing further upgrades and additional enclosures for those tigers that still have no access to outdoor areas.
Despite the pandemic making it a little harder to do our fundraising events, we were still able to run our virtual version of our Walk for Tigers event with great success. Once again, walkers from all over the world participated to great success. Online fundraising has now become the norm, and our latest fundraiser for the Great Chicken Run, was also a resounding success enabling us to fund, and continue funding 12 weeks of chicken. Smaller events such as local village fairs were also attended raising both awareness for our cause as well as funding.
Education and resources
Throughout the year, we continued to post educational materials across all our social media channels to educate and inform those planning on visiting tiger facilities in the future as well as what good tiger enrichment entails.
We also attended a number of virtual conferences including the International Society of Anthrozoology Annual Conference where our director presented some of her work on Qualitative Behaviour Assessments to help keepers understand their tigers and subsequently, their welfare. We also attended the South East Asia Zoo Association (SEAZA) conference and the EAZA Annual conference as well as numerous webinars from EAZA and Wild Welfare throughout the year. Despite all these being in virtual form, it games us many opportunities to network and begin some exciting new collaborations in the new year.
Bring on 2022 and the Year of the Tiger ...
Similar to 2020, many of our project plans were put on hold. Due to countrywide closures, we were unable to perform our usual comprehensive annual welfare assessment of all the tiger facilities though we hope to complete this early in the new year.
With 2022 the Year of the Tiger, we do have some exciting projects and ideas coming up. For starters, we will continue to provide aid to the relocated tigers from Tiger Temple, hopefully moving forward to create more species-specific environments and enrichment for them. We also have a number of research projects in the works, all designed to make it easier to assess tiger welfare and push for positive changes in their captive lives. New collaborations are on the horizon too, so we hope to make 2022, the Year of the Tiger one to remember!
As always, thank you for your support, and let’s see what the Year of the Tiger brings!