BANGKOK: A Thai zoo has sparked outrage after a video of staff repeatedly prodding a tiger to elicit roars for tourist photos went viral, renewing criticism of the kingdom’s notorious animal tourism industry.
The clip, which has garnered more than one million views since it was posted on Monday, shows the Pattaya zoo attendant jabbing the chained animal in the face with a stick as tourists take turns posing with or sitting on top of the big cat for pictures.
“This tiger gets poked all day, hundreds of times a day so it will roar for the picture with tourists,” wrote Edwin Wiek, the founder of Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand, who filmed the video and posted it on Facebook.
A spokesperson for the zoo, The Million Years Stone Park and Pattaya Crocodile Farm, told AFP the tiger attendant had been transferred to another job over the incident.
“The owner he loves animals and he will not allow staff to hurt his animals,” she added.
Tourist dollars and the lure of the animal selfie fuel a lucrative but controversial wildlife tourism industry in Thailand, where opportunities to ride elephants, hold monkeys and pet tigers are all available for a price.
Animal rights groups have long criticised the industry as inhumane, with chained up animals kept in small quarters with inadequate diets or veterinary care.
The Pattaya zoo’s website shows pictures of white tigers, bears, camels, deer and other exotic animals in outdoor pens. It also advertises a daily show featuring a man fighting bare-handed with adult crocodiles.
“We believe that the taking of selfies with wildlife should be stopped completely,” Wiek told AFP, adding that such behaviour is also risky for humans.
“Every year hundreds of people are bitten or clawed in similar situations.”
In 2016 the kingdom made international headlines after police raided its infamous Tiger Temple, a tourist site accused of links to the illegal wildlife trade.
Pop star Rihanna also inadvertently highlighted another thriving illegal trade in 2013 when she posted a selfie with a slow loris in Phuket.
Earlier this month boxer Floyd Mayweather visited Phuket and posted photos on his Instagram account showing him riding an elephant, another practice criticised by rights advocates.
A July report by World Animal Protection said Thailand was the global epicentre of the elephant tourism industry, with the majority of its 2,198 tourist pachyderms held in inadequate conditions.