Tigers, Tourism and Thailand

What this week's news can teach us about responsible tourism.

For those of you who don’t quite follow the latest travel news as avidly as we do, there have been two headlines this week which may have still been picked up by your radar.

The first was the discovery of forty dead tiger cubs found frozen in Thailand’s Tiger Temple, also known as Wat Pha Luang Ta Bu Yannasampanno. Found along with body parts of other animals, authorities are still not sure why the cubs’ bodies were kept, although there are possible links to their use in Traditional Chinese Medicine.

In recent years the Tiger Temple has left a trail of controversy. It acts as a major tourist attraction, making over £1.9million through entrance fees and other charges for tourists to visit the 137 tigers and monks who work there. Tourists can pay a little extra for a photo or to feed these animals. Since 2001, the monks running the attraction and Thai authorities have been locked in a battle to remove the animals from the site.  

It begs the question, why was it allowed in the first place? Although it may not seem it at first, this is a prime example of irresponsible tourism. We all know that tigers are wild animals and even fully qualified and trained animal handling staff would rarely seek to interact with them when homed in a licenced zoo. So why were tourists able to pose with these magnificent creatures? Although it has never been fully proven, there are countless anecdotes and examples from the Tiger Temple of the mistreatment of their tigers: the animals being beaten into submission and having their claws cut has been admitted by former staff, as well as the apparent drugging of the tigers to keep them docile and tolerant to the steady trail of tourists lining up for a cuddle.

As horrific as this is, we must not forget that the Tiger Temple is not the only example of the mistreatment of animals in tourism: SeaWorld’s orca programme in Orlando, ‘swimming with jaguars’ in Honduras and the Pinnawala elephant orphanage in Sri Lanka have all reached the headlines in recent years for similar issues. While we may all be most upset by the practices these organisations put into place, we should also be asking ourselves why we allow it to happen?

Responsible tourism is not just the concern of tour operators such as ourselves, but also of the tourist. Every one of us knows that tigers are wild animals and potentially lethal. You would never ‘pet’ them in the wild, so why should you expect to be able to do it at any other point? With regards to animal rights in travel, any creature kept in captivity should be allowed to live a life as close as possible to they would in the wild. Any working animal should be well looked after. As a traveller/tourist you should be on the lookout for things like this and if you do believe animals are being mistreated then you have a duty to report it.

Here at the STC we refuse to work with any organisations which does not promote our high standards of animal rights. Our groups will never be involved in activities like cuddling tiger cubs, instead we promote conservation based activities such as studying turtle breeding in Costa Rica  or Lion conservation programmes in Kenya. Students can learn how conservation methods benefit wildlife and how tourism can positively benefit key issues like these.  

The second news story of the week – that of Richard Huckle and child sex tourism – we have covered in a separate post.