Despite numerous attempts to shut the Tiger Temple in Thailand down, confiscate the tigers and even ban the monks from making a profit, tourists still line up to have their photo taken in a $3 million a year industry. It has to stop, and backpackers are the ones with the power to do it. Now is the time to say no more tiger selfies.
*Update: Since this article was published the charity and partners of Bemused Backpacker, Care For The Wild International, were unfortunately closed down and swallowed up by Born Free who do not share all of the same goals and principles of Care For The Wild International. Unfortunately this also means the amazing RIGHT tourism campaign is now defunct. This is a huge loss to the conservation world but their message of responsible wildlife tourism lives on.
Wat Pa Luangta Bua Yannasampanno, more commonly known as the Tiger Temple, is on the surface a dual purpose monastery and tourist attraction. A facility where tourists can go and pay a pretty hefty ‘donation’ (a subtle way to avoid the government ban on them charging for these services) to walk, cuddle and of course – infinitely more importantly – get their photo taken with the tigers themselves!
Impressive, right? Social media feeds are filled with pictures of grinning idiots trying to look impressive whilst cuddling a tiger. Even celebrities such as Beyonce have gotten involved, which then encourage their legions of fans to mindlessly think that tiger selfies are okay. Facebook and Instagram feeds, Snapchat and Twitter posts are clogged with what is clear evidence of abuse masked in a thin veil of heavily greenwashed tourism.
But what does all this matter as long as you get a nice profile photo for Facebook or a really cool shot of you cuddling a tiger to impress everyone on Instagram, right? As long as you look awesome and get to impress all your mates back home, who cares what happens behind the scenes?
The Tiger Temple is unethical, irresponsible and abusive, and your tiger selfies are allowing the monks to get away with it.
Okay, I get it. You love tigers and want to see them and be near them, right? To be fair some travellers simply don’t know about the issues involved. Despite the fact that there has been over a decade of accusations, tons of evidence of a wide variety of abuses and international news coverage of the Tiger Temple being raided and the Abbot going on the run (before he threw a ton of bribes at the authorities of course), let’s just assume there are still people out there who don’t have a clue about any of this. Many tourists have a deep instinctive love for tigers and may be misled by the fact that the Tiger Temple is heavily advertised and is on almost every packaged tour in Thailand, so it must be okay.
Let me clear things up for you.
This is not in an way an ethical or responsible zoo, despite the Abbots (who by the way legged it and went into hiding during the raids like any innocent person would) disgusting attempt to apply for a zoo licence.
There has been almost a decades worth of academic research and evidence that show clear documented proof that the tigers are abused, mistreated and exploited. Reports as far back as 2008 with the now unfortunately defunct Care For The Wild International, a former partner of Bemused Backpacker, released a report that detailed all of these abuses and more.
“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.” Care For The Wild International, 2008.
This goes far, far beyond mere controversy and accusations, as it is often reported in the press. There has been clear evidence of abuse and neglect, of tigers being beaten and abused, fed a poor diet or even starved, of poor living conditions, of intensive and illegal breeding that do not contribute to any international conservation standards and much more. Much of the controversial focus has been on whether the tigers have been drugged or not, and despite many veterinary and wildlife experts giving their professional opinion that they were clear drugs have been used, no clear evidence has yet been found. However, that does not mean they haven’t been abused in a variety of other ways.
I warn you, this is not a pleasant video to watch.
Apart from the clear abuse, neglect and mistreatment of the tigers themselves, the temple has also engaged in illegal wildlife trafficking and capture which violate numerous laws and codes both of the Thai Wildlife Preservation and Protection Act and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Not to mention illegal bribes to the Thai authorities, which is how they managed to remain open despite coming very close to being shut down after the raids in April 2015. A fact that was extremely disheartening and shocking to anyone who cares about the plight of these tigers.
The latest report into what is happening at the Tiger Temple by National Geographic and Cee4Life showed that there was new evidence that tigers were being illegally traded on the black market to criminal tiger farms, specifically in Laos.
This is truly a joke. How much evidence of abuse, neglect and exploitation is needed before action is taken? How much evidence of criminal activity and corruption is needed before the international community steps in?
But there is hope, and there is a lot you and other backpackers can do to help.
I want to urge each and every one of you, if you do have a photo taken at the Tiger Temple in the past then please don’t share it on social media, please take it off all your profile pictures if you have one. This isn’t about shaming you or anyone but instead stopping the promotion of this temple as something that travellers should aspire to.
But I want to go a step further and urge each and every backpacker out there who may be heading to Thailand to avoid this ‘temple’ in the first place.
The monks are allowed to continue in this abuse only as long as travellers make it profitable for them to do so.
Is taking a selfie with a tiger really worth supporting their abuse and exploitation? Is your experience on your gap year or backpacking adventure really worth supporting an irresponsible and frankly evil attraction like the Tiger Temple?
I urge all of you who are heading to Thailand and thinking of getting that now infamous Tiger Temple Selfie not to. Avoid this place like the plague and starve them of your money. Don’t allow them to continue to use the vast tourist profits they make to abuse and exploit the tigers supposedly in their care.
- Boycott the Tiger Temple, and if you see it advertised by any tour operator let them know exactly why you won’t be using them.
- Please don’t get a tiger selfie. Don’t put your ego or experience above the animals welfare.
- If you have been there and you have a photo already, then please don’t share it on social media, or take it down if you have.
If you truly love tigers, then please do your research and visit responsible alternatives instead. None of us are perfect, none of us make the right choices all of the time, but if we make a conscious effort to at the very least avoid making bad choices, then things may start to change. The less visitors the Tiger Temple gets, the less profit they make and the more they will hear the international communities voice that what they are doing is not acceptable and will not be supported.
Did you enjoy this article? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below or on my Facebook or Twitter pages and please feel free to share it with any or all of the social media buttons. If you want to get more great backpacking tips, advice and inspiration, please subscribe to updates via email in the box to your right.
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How To Make Your Gap Year Responsible, Ethical And Sustainable.
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It IS Finally The End Of The Tiger Temple: But What Happens To The Tigers Now?
I cannot believe they are still allowed to get away with this, it is ridiculous!
It is. The good news is if travellers and tourists stop supporting them with their money, they will not be able to continue.
Hi, I’ve been following the posts on the TigerTemple, such horrific treatment these lovely animals are receiving, can’t believe it’s still allowed to be open and running for business, shameful and disgusting . I was in Thailand recently, and I must admit, mostly all of the people I spoke to were very much against this place and like me, we’re spreading the word. I truly hope something miraculously comes about, and this horrific treatment stops. Hope your post helps in what is a very important cause.
Thank you Julie, word is definitely getting out there now, much in the same way word is getting about on elephant trekking thanks to travel bloggers increasing awareness (and huge gains are being made in that industry in Thailand). There is still a long way to go though, I’d personally love every local tour agency to stop automatically including it in their tour packages for example, but raising awareness is the key. Thank you for reading and supporting. 🙂
People can be so stupid sometimes, I’m sorry but you don’t even need evidence to have common sense and know that idiots sitting on tigers and posing for selfies is wrong!
I wish that were true for many people Alice.
I became aware of the tiger temple following a documentary many years ago. On it, and its follow up some years later, the chief monk explained how people dumped the tigers there and how things got out of hand. He was a lovely, if naive, man whose sole aim was to free the animals. I found it heartwarming and sad. He could not cope on his own and had to bring outsiders in to help. I was not aware that it had reached this level.
I think I know the documentary you mean, it has since been debunked as nothing more than a self serving, greenwashed ego trip. Veterinary records have shown for example that some of their original tigers were ‘wild caught’, as in specifically and purposely captured from the wild, and that they have traded with illegal tiger farms and engaged in wildlife trafficking from the start, so that pretty much flies in the face of the whitewashed story of them taking in poor defenceless cubs left on their doorstep.
I had the opportunity to take photos with the tigers in thailand. It was a humbling experience. You quickly realize how helpless us humans are. But looking at this I wish that I had stayed away. I may think harder next time
I hope it does make you think harder Alex, it’s not about judgement on mistakes we have made in the past when we didn’t have all the facts, but more about what decisions we make in the future when we are armed with all the right information.
Great post! I am amazed by how much unethical practices go on in the travel world even here in the US. It is horrible so thanks for bringing awareness to this issue.
It’s an issue worthy of attention. Thank you for reading.
I can never stomach watching videos where animals are abused so I didn’t even bother watching the video, but I can only imagine…Thank you for sharing this important information and bringing awareness to this issue!
I completely understand, I can’t stand watching them either, but it is an important message and it is essential that people know the truth about this disgusting ‘attraction’. Thanks for the comment 🙂
This is horrific. I had heard a bit about this but had no idea
Most people don’t Anne, that is why hopefully I can raise a bit of awareness.