What is a Selfie Worth? Undercover Investigation Reveals Tiger Abuse in Thai Zoos

What is a Selfie Worth? Undercover Investigation Reveals Tiger Abuse in Thai Zoos

Animal rights charity Lady Freethinker (LFT) has conducted an undercover investigation into the treatment of tigers in Thai zoos, revealing widespread abuse for tourist selfies. LFT visited 11 zoos across Thailand and documented instances of cruelty against the tigers used as “photo props.”

The investigation uncovered disturbing practices, including tigers having lighter flames placed under their noses to force them to lift their heads for pictures. LFT claims that this particular form of abuse has never been previously filmed. Other instances of cruelty included animals being whipped, tigers, lions, and ligers being tightly chained by the neck to concrete slabs, and tigers kept in barren, concrete enclosures with dirty water.

Nina Jackel, founder and president of Lady Freethinker, expressed shock at the level of abuse uncovered, stating that they had not seen abuses of this magnitude before. LFT is now launching a petition urging Thailand to end the cruelty and has sent a letter to Thai officials urging an immediate ban on forced photo opportunities with animals.

The rise of social media platforms and the quest for “cute” selfies have been blamed for the increased global exploitation and cruelty towards animals. Elisa Allen, PETA vice president of UK programs and operations, explained that the pursuit of likes and shares on social media has fueled a lucrative market of animal abuse. She cited the case of the Tiger Temple in western Thailand, which made millions of dollars from ticket sales before it was shut down due to allegations of illegal breeding and trafficking.

Thailand is known for its captive tiger population, with the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) estimating that there were at least 1,962 tigers in over 63 facilities in the country in 2019. Conditions similar to those exposed by LFT’s investigation have been described by PETA, with animals used for selfies enduring distressing conditions and facing risks of stress, injury, and disease transmission.

LFT’s investigator, who chose to remain anonymous for safety reasons, expressed deep sadness at witnessing the abuse during the visits to Thai zoos. They stated that the situation was much worse than expected and believed that the 11 locations they visited accurately represented the treatment of tigers across the country.

While there is growing public opposition to the use of wild animals for entertainment, there is still much work to be done. Elisa Allen acknowledged that the trend of taking selfies with tigers remains widespread in Thailand and other parts of Asia. However, positive steps have been taken, such as travel companies no longer promoting interactions with wild animals.

In response to the findings, Lady Freethinker and PETA urge the public to refrain from paying for photo opportunities with wild animals and to raise awareness about the cruelty involved. They emphasize the importance of leaving wild animals in their natural habitats and promoting a compassionate approach to wildlife tourism.

The investigation conducted by Lady Freethinker sheds light on the distressing reality faced by tigers in Thailand’s zoos and calls for immediate action to end the abuse. With public awareness and continued advocacy, there is hope for a future where wild animals are no longer exploited for selfies and entertainment.

This article by Trinity Sparke was first published by OneGreenPlanet on 6 July 2023. 

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