After years of urging travellers and tourists alike to boycott the infamous Tiger Temple, I asked in a previous article what will happen now that the temple has finally been raided? Now it seems we know the answer as it has been finally ordered to give up it’s tigers by Friday.
After months of wrangling and farcical back and forths – where even the temples criminal ‘Abbott’ did a runner to Bangkok – it finally seems like it is game over for the Tiger Temple. The Chief of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation has said in a statement that Wat Pa Luangta Bua Yanasampanno, known colloquially as the Tiger Temple in Kanchanaburi, must give up its 147 tigers by Friday or they will be seized.
According to the Bangkok Post, the tigers are to be moved to the Khao Pra Thap Chang Wildlife Breeding Centre in Chom Bung district and Khao Son Wildlife Breeding Centre in Suan Phung district in Ratchaburi province.
The results of February’s raid and investigation are not yet being made public, so we can’t know exactly what finally led to this decision, but the Tiger Temple has been accused for years now by numerous international wildlife organisations 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, 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.”
So it finally looks as if it is the end of the infamous Tiger Temple. And it is about time too.
What happens to the tigers now?
These tigers have largely been raised in complete captivity and have been bred and interbred without any guidance or standards from international breeding regulations, and as a result there is unfortunately no hope at all of reintroducing any of them to the wild.
The fact that they are now been rescued from one form of abuse and exploitation does not mean they are now free from any risk of further exploitation either. The money tigers can fetch on the black market is vast, and it is paramount that they do not fall into the wrong hands during this transfer.
Zoos and animal facilities that meet and exceed international standards for the care and welfare of wildlife are the obvious first choice. These animals can never go back to the wild and will need to be taken care of in one way or another. The Khao Pra Thap Chang Wildlife Breeding Centre in Chom Bung district and Khao Son Wildlife Breeding Centre in Suan Phung district in Ratchaburi province are two centres currently being prepared for this very purpose.
At the very least they can be taken care of according to international standards, instead of being used as a cash cow to fund the abbots brand new temple complex.
It is my hope that the international community will now work alongside the Thai government to create something better for these rescued tigers however. If they can never be reintroduced back into the wild, then they can at least have the next best thing if a large area of Thailand’s vast national parks were set aside as a true sanctuary for these regal, abused animals.
It is true that a vast area of land will be needed, and a lot of money besides, but with the vast national parks available in Thailand and funding from the international community this is not inconceivable.
If this was made possible, the tigers will still not be in the wild, but they will be as close to nature as they can be. This true sanctuary can be used to not only care for these animals, but also to educate the public and tourists as a real centre of excellence and in time, and in future generations, perhaps make a real difference to the future of the species.
I am both glad and relieved that these tigers will no longer be props for tourists who don’t know any better, but there is a real opportunity here to make a real difference and I hope both the Thai government and the international community will take it.
UPDATE: As of Saturday 25th April 2015, the Thai authorities made a deal with the monks after a long standoff. I am shocked and completely disheartened at the fact that due to a lack of suitable facilities to remove the tigers to (and I am sure more than one under the table backhanded deal) the monks where allowed to keep them in the temple complex. Despite the fact that officially the tigers are deemed ‘legally confiscated state assets under the responsibility of the parks department’, and the monks have been legally ordered not to charge tourists to take pictures with them, this still feels like a missed opportunity. Thai authorities said they will be seized at the slightest infraction of these conditions, but why not just take them anyway?
If any of you are heading to Thailand soon, I urge you to stay as far away from this place as possible. Visit and support ethical wildlife sanctuaries instead.
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