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The girlfriend and I are planning a trip to Thailand and really hope to make animals a centerpiece of our trip. We already have a plan to see elephants at the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary in Chiang Mai because it seems like they place a great emphasis on animal welfare. We both love cats and were initially thrilled at the idea of being able to interact with big cats (i.e. tigers), but upon further research we kept finding evidence pointing towards animal cruelty at the various tiger attractions. Both Tiger Temple and Tiger Kingdom seem to keep the animals confined in relatively small cages and the animals live their lives constantly bombarded with attention from tourists. Add to that the rumors that some of the tiger places will sedate the animals with drugs to promote safer interactions and it all sounds very discouraging to be honest. We also checked out some YouTube videos of the Chiang Mai Night Safari, which purports to be more of a zoo. But the videos showed some of the cats pacing back and forth, which can be a sign that they're under extreme stress.

Are there any sanctuaries for tigers in Thailand that have a better track record? Or that have a history of prioritizing animal welfare? Thanks.

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Thailand's animal welfare law was adopted in 2014, but you can still watch orangutans in kick-boxing shows, take part in elephant riding and have your own tiger selfie. Terrible!

You may check this Wildlife Rescue Centre that offers a day visit and volunteering activities as well.

"We take our rescue and rehabilitation work very seriously. Please be aware the WRC is strictly hands off. Volunteers will have no physical interaction with animals but will provide the essential daily and long-term needs of the animals, such as feeding, cleaning enclosures and providing stimulation in the form of behavioral and environmental enrichments."

"At the rescue center you will find 6 species of gibbon, 5 species of macaque, lorises, 2 species of langur, 2 species of bear, small wild cats, various civet species, reptiles, otters, birds and many more. All the animals you will see around the center have been rescued from poor living conditions, saved from the illegal wildlife trade, the pet industry, the tourism, and entertainment industry, or directly from the wild, where they may have been victims of road traffic accidents, dog attacks or other human caused accidents."

And they are linked to an elephant refuge center: http://www.thaielephantrefuge.org/

Nowadays, many operators sell their tours as animal-friendly and cruelty-free, but as this article details, you must keep your eyes wide open:

"If you want to visit a sanctuary, look to see if the animals are being exploited for humans. If a place says they are a sanctuary, then they should not offer elephant rides or shows or paintings. A visitor should just be able to see them in their natural habitat, being with other elephants. It is also important to look for signs of abuse. If a camp uses bullhooks or other instruments to intimidate or inflict pain on the animal to get it to listen, it is an abusive existence for the animal."

Are you being offered with a special "XYZ tour"? Google the tour name or operators:

  • XYZ tour pictures
  • XYZ tour review
  • XYZ tour abused animals

This other article also offers some other tips to find real cruelty-free alternatives to get in touch with animals.

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Places where they live freely

There are national parks where tigers roam freely. Obviously, it's rare to come across them in such a park, but you can find some information about them and maybe look for tiger prints.

From thainationalpark.com's page on Huai Kha Khaeng:

Most common mammals in the park with almost guaranteed sighting during couple of days trips are four deer species (Sambar deer, barking deer, Eld's deer and Indian hog deer), long-tailed macaque, Asian palm civet and boar. There is quite good chance to spot bantengs and elephants on the first watchtower 7 km east of headquarters. Huai Kha Khaeng is probably the best place in Thailand to see bantengs, another good location is Kui Buri National Park. Leopards are seen relatively often, but one may need up to weeks patient search to eventually see one. Tigers are relatively common, but sighting is quite rare. Tiger pawn prints can be seen along the trails and dirt roads regularly.

Captivity

Having been to many Thai zoos where you can pet tigers, wild cats and other animals I think it's safe to say that the vast majority are not cruelty-free. If you're in doubt about a zoo or sanctuary just Google them and look for signs of abuse. If it's a tour, look at the place they're going (ask if it's not clearly stated).

"Can you pet the wild cats?"

A simple way to ask without giving away your true motive is to ask if you can pet the wild cats. If that's the case, they're probably using some sort of drug to keep them from biting you. If not, well, you don't want to pet them because they may leave a nasty bite.

Therefore, asking if you can pet should tell you enough.

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