When on "display," the tigers are often chained in extreme temperatures with minimal or no shade for many hours. Sadly, in order for the tigers to comply as a hands-on attraction, beatings and abuse are a regular occurrence in their upbringing and there are reports of drugging to maintain an induced sedate nature. Finally there are also many risks associated with interacting with the tigers and there are regular reports of attacks and even deaths occurring involving tourists.
If all this wasn't unsettling enough, several tigers go missing from the sanctuary under inexplicable circumstances only to be replaced by a different tiger given the same name. With neighboring countries known for valuing tiger products as a medicine, it's extremely likely those missing noble beasts suffered a less-than-noble death.
But Thailand isn't the only culprit in the abuse of animals and deception in using the terms "eco-tourism" and "conservation sanctuary". The practice also occurs in areas of South America involving leopards and in certain areas of Africa with lions and leopards. It is with great derision and skepticism that all of these places should be examined by a responsible tourist before engaging with, and certainly handing over money to, these "sanctuaries".
There are advocates of the Tiger Temple and other destinations claiming themselves to be conservation orientated or sanctuaries. Some claim although not operated perfectly or to traditional conservation standards, places like the Tiger Temple are taking steps to a similar, environmentally positive goal. The Tiger Temple in fact claims to be planning on the acquisition of land to enable them to release bred tigers into the wild to bolster the drastically reduced and critically endangered current population of wild tigers. How they plan to assimilate a captive hybrid genetic type that has almost no long-term ability to survive in the wild and would do nothing to aid in the improvement of the state of true wild tigers, however, is anyone's guess.
What can I do to be a responsible tourist?