Say no to tiger selfies. They fund tiger abuse, fuel wildlife industry
Tiger temples in Thailand are a huge tourist attraction. And many of us Indians, who love holidaying in Thailand, are guilty of promoting this cruelty against tigers. Taking selfies with tigers, who have been disciplined beyond imagination - they let you hug, cuddle and are in one camera frame after frame for hours, for years.
Silly selfies that make us feel smug on the social media. Silly selfies which we think will up our appeal on a matrimonial app. Silly selfies that hide the pain of tigers and the sickening intent of the wildlife industry.
To mark World Tiger Day on 29 July, World Animal Protection (WAP) has launched an initiative to expose the cruelty behind tiger selfies. And it is specifically asking Indian tourists to not support the cruel tiger tourism industry in Thailand.
Tigers, tourists and Thailand
With more than one million Indian tourists visiting Thailand every year, WAP's concern seems justified. It believes that Indians can make a significant difference to the welfare of tigers if they boycott wildlife entertainment venues and thereby help prevent their cruelty.
The wildlife entertainment industry is expanding fast. It has registered a growth of 33% with three times more tigers in captivity compared to the last five years. At last count, there were 830 tigers in captivity, compared to 623 in 2010.
The growing numbers are indicative of speed-breeding of captive tigers without any conservation benefits, and it's also evidence that more tigers are born into suffering.
A study titled 'Tiger selfies exposed: a portrait of Thailand's tiger entertainment industry' by WAP reveals that tigers are mistreated to fuel the demand for wild animals as photo props for tourists. It asks tourists to take a pledge to not visit any venue which uses tigers for entertainment and to put an end to this cruelty, because:
* Tiger cubs are separated from their mothers, merely two to three weeks after they are born
* Young cubs are presented to tourists and are mishandled hundreds of times a day, which leads to stress and injury
* Tigers are trained using painful techniques to stop aggressive and unwanted behaviour
* Most tigers are housed in small concrete cages or barren enclosures with limited access to even fresh water
According to the report, one in 10 tigers - 12 per cent - of those observed showed behavioural issues such as repetitive pacing, biting their tales. These behaviours most commonly occur when animals feel they cannot cope with stressful environments or situations.
Of the 17 tiger entertainment venues investigated in Thailand, Sriracha Tiger Zoo in Pattaya has the highest number of tigers in captivity. It's also the venue where the animal welfare condition is the poorest.
"In the run up to the International Tiger Day this year, we are urging Indian tourists to think about the welfare of tigers, and we're calling on the travel industry to stop promoting and profiting from tiger cruelty," says WAP's India director Gajender K Sharma.
"The message is simple, if you can get up close, hug or have a selfie with a tiger, chances are the tiger is suffering, so don't do it."
Pride of India
The tiger is India's national animal and is listed under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act and Appendix I of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora).
According to the 2014 census, there are approximately 2,226 tigers in India, which is over 60% of the total wild tiger population of the world. There are 49 tiger reserves in India, and the 10 most visited tiger reserves get an average of 150,000-200,000 visitors a year.
Also read - Tiger tourism is an amazing experience. It just needs proper monitoring
There are also around 300 tigers in Indian zoos and these captive facilities are extensively visited by tourists. Most humans misbehave with them - poking them, throwing stones at them or entering their enclosures for fun.
It's easy to fall prey to the thinking that one more selfie will not hurt the tiger. Every single click means money. Every single click hurts the tiger. And every single click counts to help save this endangered species.