sriracha tiger zoo
The tiger who adopted a litter of piglets (but is it a tale full of porkies?)


Last updated at 22:26 30 November 2007

On the heartwarming scale this rates as a positive scorcher.

A forlorn tigress, heartbroken because her own cubs have died, is fooled into adopting a litter of piglets when zoo officials in California wrap them in tiger skins.

Such a thing had never been tried before, according to the email which accompanied these pictures as they were sent around the world.

Unfortunately, there was a twist in the tiger’s tale.

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High on the hog: Five piglets in their tiger-skin coats doze peacefully across their surrogate mother at the zoo in Thailand. The tigress suckled and cared for the brood

Though the pictures have not been faked, an animal welfare pressure group investigated and discovered they were actually taken at a zoo in Thailand.

The Sriracha Tiger Zoo, an hour’s drive from Bangkok, has been accused of causing its exhibits unnecessary suffering, and of using stunts to gain publicity.

These pictures must have been part of such a set-up, say experts, because it was unnecessary to wrap the piglets in their cute little tiger-skin coats.

It is apparently common practice in Thailand for tigers to suckle pigs, and for pigs to adopt orphaned cubs.

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Pork scratching: A persistent piglet nuzzles up to the tigress as it tries to sleep

The tigress in these pictures was herself brought up by a sow, and sees pigs as family.

Though she had been given these babies to bring up, it is unclear whether she had lost a litter of her own, as the story claimed.

In another twist, the zoo has been investigated for allegedly breeding tigers for export to China - where tiger parts command high prices for use in traditional medicines.

Sommai Temsiripong, one of the zoo’s owners, was charged with breeding tigers without a licence. On another occasion 23 tigers died of bird flu after being fed infected raw chickens.

Critics say that behind the scenes tigers are bred in poor conditions and the the London Zoological Society has been critical of Sriracha’s animal husbandry.

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Piggy in the middle: One baby takes cover

Adam Roberts, an investigator with Animal Welfare International, the respected American pressure group which investigated the pictures, wrote in its quarterly magazine that the zoo - with more than 400 tigers, a handful of Asian elephants, of crocodiles, camels, snakes and other exotic animals - had many troubling exhibits.

It also houses a circus, he said, where he saw tigers leaping through rings of fire, walking across a double tightrope, parading around the ring on hind legs, and riding on the back of a horse.

“Up close, however, one could clearly see the animals’ debilitation and fear,” he added.

“All of the animals awaited their turn to perform in a gated tunnel, keepers constantly poking them with a steel pole through the iron mesh.”

Behind the scenes, bored elephants swayed at the end of 2ftlong chains anchored to the ground.

One had a long, deep scar across his ear - another was scarred across her trunk.

“After the show, the elephants stood in frot of the seats taking money from people with their trunks and passing it to the trainers astride their backs,” Mr Roberts reported.

The zoo denies any wrongdoing.