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.
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