After years of controversy and countless animal rights campaigners and wildlife protection agencies calling for the Tiger Temple in Kanchanaburi to be shut down, it appears that the Thai authorities are FINALLY starting to take note with initial reports of the temple being raided and the animals impounded.
Wat Pa Luang Ta Bua – more famously known as the Tiger Temple – in Kanchanaburi province has been the source of huge controversy for years now, with reports of widespread abuse of the tigers, hampering of true conservation efforts and involvement in the illegal wildlife trade. Much of the debate among travellers tended to focus on whether the tigers were drugged or not in order to sedate them so tourists could get that all important selfie shot, completely missing the point that there are many other forms of abuse.
Clear evidence of abuse.
On top of the countless and sustained reports of abuse, malnutrition, drugging and ill treatment of the tigers, there have also been repeated accusations that the temple is linked to the illegal tiger trade and breeds the tigers without regard for international conservation efforts. Care For The Wild International released a report back in 2008 that stated:
“Although the Tiger Temple may have begun as a rescue centre for tigers (and that is a very big ‘may’), it has become a breeding centre to produce and keep tigers solely for the tourists and therefore the Temple’s benefit. Illegal international trafficking helps to maintain the Temples’ captive tiger population. There is no possibility of the Temples’ breeding programme contributing to the conservation of the species in the wild.”
With so much evidence over such a sustained period of time, it is truly shocking that action wasn’t taken sooner, but according to the Thai Public Broadcasting Service (TPBS), on Tuesday 3rd February 2015, a combined force of more than 100 forestry and park officials, police and soldiers searched the temple and impounded all the tigers and birds found there.
Part of me wants to say about damn time, but another part worries about the Thai authorities ability and determination to deal with the situation in the right manner. It appears for now at least that the birds have been removed from the temple and taken to Khao Pratap Chang wildlife research station in Ratchaburi, but there is no word yet on what will happen to the tigers themselves other than for the moment they have been impounded.
The big problem is many of them have been bred illegally without any breeding data, and there is a strong possibility that they will be almost impossible to rehabilitate back into the wild.
International intervention is needed.
There is a strong need now for wildlife protection charities, experts and organisations to get involved and ensure that the care of the tigers has international supervision, and that the tiger temple itself is never allowed to operate as a tourist attraction again. I strongly hope too that the Abbot – who appears for the moment to have done a runner to Bangkok – is prosecuted for the abuse he has overseen, but I guess that may be too much to hope for.
I don’t yet know what will happen to these tigers or if the temple will remain open. I certainly hope it does not, and that the tigers receive the care they deserve. Whatever happens next, if the temple is allowed to remain open for whatever reason, I urge all of you not to support it and instead find ways to view and interact with wildlife on your travels in an ethical and sustainable way.
Update: The temple as of this moment has been shut down and the tigers confiscated, but the Thai authorities are currently allowing plans for a new ‘zoo’ to be built next door to the old site of the temple by the same people who used to run it.
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