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Tiger Interactions in Thailand; What Are They And What Consequences Do They Have for Welfare?


Tiger cub bottle feeding
Cub feeding in Thailand | For Tigers, 2019

Animal interactions play an important role in Thailand’s tourism industry (1). Shifts in Thailand’s tourism policies in the early 2000s meant changes were implemented at zoos across the country to attract “quality” tourists. In the following years, many zoos began to put on various animal interactions and shows to attract foreign tourists (2).


Whilst Thailand is famous for its elephant interactions, tiger interactions become more and more popular and prevalent in recent years (1). They are now one of the most commonly found animals in interactive experiences, and there are several different types of interactions that visitors can have (3).





  • Visitors can opt to feed the tigers from outside the cage. This is commonly offered and is also often cheaper (and safer!) for visitors.

  • For a higher fee, visitors can take photos with adult tigers. This typically involves being escorted into the tigers’ enclosures by staff, who will have the tiger pose and position the visitor beside the tiger.

  • The chance to walk a tiger is offered at a few zoos across Thailand and is done with both adults and cubs. Here visitors can walk a tiger on a lead, in a secured area under the guidance of staff.

  • Visitors can also pay for interactions with cubs, which typically involve photos and bottle feeding. Some zoos offer interactions with cubs of varying ages, with the youngest cubs (typically only a few months old) fetching the highest prices.

Chained tiger for photos
Photo tiger in Thailand | For Tigers, 2023

Despite their importance to the Thai economy, tiger interactions often come at a cost to the welfare of the tigers. These welfare implications can vary depending on the type of interaction, and some are less harmful than others.


  1. Tigers participating in interactions often have no choice but to participate, which inhibits their ability to behave naturally. Some facilities hold their tigers in smaller, barren enclosures or chain them to a platform, both of which will heavily restrict a tiger’s movement.

  2. The training process for these interactions can often involve physical punishments, and disobedience during interactions is often treated with the threat of punishment (4).

  3. The demand for cubs is high and facilities will often separate them from their mothers within the first few weeks of life to habituate them to handling. This is stressful for both mothers and cubs. In the wild tiger cubs will stay with their mothers for up to two years, and during this time they will learn vital social and survival skills (4).

  4. Cubs are particularly neglected when it comes to interactive experiences, whilst adult photos sometimes take place in the animal’s furnished enclosure, cubs are usually kept in barren pens/cages to make them easier to access.

  5. Cubs are also often manhandled by staff who will pull on their tails/limbs, and frequent interactions can subject them to additional mishandling from visitors.

Interactions have the potential to be beneficial to welfare, as there is some research to suggest that human-tiger interactions can offer social enrichment. Furthermore, the use of positive reinforcement training practices can be enriching as this offers mental stimulation. This has only been studied in the context of keeper-tiger relationships however, which are built over long periods of time, and the application of this evidence to visitor-tiger interactions is questionable (5). However, if facilities are not using safe and positive methods of handling and training then the interactions are likely to diminish the tigers’ welfare.


References

  1. Hayward PT, Liu S, Thigpen AP, Hart LA. Animal Tourism: Thai Caregivers’ Perspectives on Their Relationships with Elephants and Tigers. Animals (Basel) [Internet]. 2022 Mar 21 [cited 2023 Jul 10];12(6):790. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8944777/

  2. Cohen E. The Wild and the Humanized: Animals in Thai Tourism. Anatolia [Internet]. 2009 Jun 1 [cited 2023 Jul 10];20(1):100–18. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1080/13032917.2009.10518898

  3. Schmidt-Burbach J, Ronfot D, Srisangiam R. Asian Elephant (Elephas maximus), Pig-Tailed Macaque (Macaca nemestrina) and Tiger (Panthera tigris) Populations at Tourism Venues in Thailand and Aspects of Their Welfare. PLOS ONE [Internet]. 2015 Sep 25 [cited 2023 Mar 25];10(9):e0139092. Available from: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0139092

  4. World Animal Protection. Tiger selfies exposed: A portrait of Thailand’s tiger entertainment industry. 2016; Available from: https://www.worldanimalprotection.org/sites/default/files/media/int_files/tiger_selfies_exposed_a_portrait_of_thailands_tiger_entertainment_industry.pdf

  5. Szokalski MS, Litchfield CA, Foster WK. Enrichment for captive tigers (Panthera tigris): Current knowledge and future directions. Applied Animal Behaviour Science [Internet]. 2012 Jun 1 [cited 2021 Dec 2];139(1):1–9. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0168159112000718


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