Why you shouldn’t be smiling in a ‘Tiger Selfie’

Tiger attractions are a rapidly expanding industry. Whilst ‘ride an elephant’ venues are still very much in demand, over the past 5 years, Thailand has seen a 33% increase in captive tigers, with 830 tigers found in captivity at Thai entertainment venues last year. Lion and tiger cubs are also available to pet in Mexico, and lion cubs are considered a ‘specialty’ in South Africa.

So what actually happens to tigers at these attractions? How do they become ‘safe’ enough for us to approach and take a selfie with, even at times allowing us to hug them? Surely it’s not natural – we’re usually running from tigers!

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(Image taken from Pixabay)

The unfortunate reality is that tiger cubs used in these shows are separated from their mothers 2-3 weeks after birth. These young cubs are especially popular at attractions, with visitors thinking, “they’re just so cute and cuddly!” But tigers are no the same as domesticated cats. These young cubs are mishandled by tourists hundreds of times a day, which can lead to stress and injury for them.

‘Wild animals like lions and tigers have inherent natural behaviours, and exposure to unnatural conditions and human crowds and handling exacerbates their stress,’ says manager of the NSPCA Wildlife Protection Unit, Ainsley Hay.

In research conducted by World Animal Protection in Thailand, 1 in 10 tigers were observed showing behavioural problems, such as repetitive pacing or biting their nails. These behaviours are associated to when animals cannot cope in stressful environments, much like elephants when they pace back and forth, showing how nervous and uncomfortable they are.

In order to ‘teach’ tigers to be submissive, they are punished using pain and fear tactics which are used to stop aggressive or unwanted behaviour by their ‘trainers’. WAP reported an incident where starvation was used to punish tigers when they made a ‘mistake’ to deter them from doing it again.

Tigers are also commonly housed in small concrete cages or barren enclosures with limited access to fresh water. WAP reports that 50% of observed tigers in their study were living in cages with less than 20m2 to move around, a vast contrast to the 16-32km they would roam in a single night in their natural, wild habitats.

So the next time you think you want to take a ‘cool’ photo hugging a tiger, or lying down next to it, please think to yourself: is this natural? What made it possible for me to this?

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