After years of false starts, impotent warnings and failed attempts, the Thai authorities have finally grown a backbone and confiscated all of the tigers in the infamous tiger temple, essentially shutting it down, and it is about damn time.
It was just a year ago that the first, farcical confiscation attempt was made after years of accusations of abuse, illegal breeding and trafficking had been leveled at the temple. It looked as if – at the time – every tiger and animal in the temple would be rescued and the entire place shut down. This was a time when – fearful of arrest – the supposedly Buddhist Abbot did a runner to Bangkok and went into hiding for months, and authorities naively relied on the cooperation of the monks, who simply refused to hand the tigers over.
Not long after that, in a sickening display of greed and corruption, the Thai authorities simply backed off and allowed the tigers to remain at the temple. Despite some very strongly worded rhetoric about the tigers now being ‘legally confiscated state assets under the responsibility of the parks department’, and the monk supposedly no longer being allowed to charge tourists to take pictures with them, the Tiger Temple viewed this as a victory and carried on as normal. Basically sticking two fingers up to the authorities and anyone who gives a damn about wildlife protection, and saying they can do whatever the hell they like.
Money it seems, speaks very loudly.
Since then, things seemed to get worse as the Thai authorities appeared to grant a zoo licence to the temple, despite a huge outcry from wildlife protection groups, conservation charities and a whole host of other academics and organisations. Even a report by National Geographic and Cee4Life, that built on the earlier work by the former wildlife charity and partner to Bemused Backpacker Care For The Wild International, seemed to hold little sway.
*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.
Almost a decade of back and forth battles, accusations and condemnation from almost every wildlife conservation charity, academics, international conservation organisations and even the general public were seemingly being completely ignored.
But in a dramatic turnaround – not at all due to the sheer amount of international pressure and scrutiny I am sure – it seems now that the Tiger Temple has finally been shut down!
On the 30th May 2016, Thai officials descended on the Tiger Temple and finally began a week long operation to confiscate and remove all 136 tigers that were being held at this despicable excuse for a tourist attraction.
This time, according to Adisorn Nuchdamrong, deputy director-general of the Department of National Parks, they had an actual court warrant that gave them the authority to ignore the monks and legally enforce the tigers removal.
It is about damn time!
The Tiger Temple has for years been accused of neglect, abuse, illegal breeding, illegal wildlife trafficking, the murder – or ‘disappearance’ – of these majestic animals and the sale of body parts to the mainly Chinese traditional medicine market.
The monks, officials at the temple and even the naively misguided ‘volunteers’ who worked there vehemently denied any wrongdoing at all for years, despite the heavy weight of evidence that was stacked up against them.
Yet now that tourists have been denied entry, the tigers are being removed and authorities are thoroughly searching the temple, concrete evidence has been found linking them to these crimes in the form of dozens of dead tiger kittens and body parts stuffed into freezers.
More and more evidence of criminal activity and abuse on a vast scale is being found every single day inside the temple, evidence that so many volunteers, workers and monks vehemently denied even existed for years, and cases are finally being built up to ensure criminal convictions. Even more evidence is being found linking the Abbot and the temple to an international wildlife trafficking network, and monks and other workers have been arrested for attempting to smuggle body parts, skins and fangs out from the temple, some that had already been made up into jewellery and traditional medicine destined for the black market.
And Now This despicable temple is closed. For good.
I cannot express enough how happy I am to hear the news that the Tiger Temple is finally being shut down. I hope now that not only will travellers see the unethical attraction for what it really is and every single monk and worker in there is prosecuted to the full strength of Thai and international law. I have been urging people to boycott the Tiger Temple for years and could not hide my sheer anger and frustration and past setbacks, but it finally seems that it is the end of this sickening excuse for a tourist attraction.
Selfish, unthinking tourists will have to get their tiger selfies with a stuffed toy, the supposed monks will have to find another cash cow to milk money from the lucrative tourism industry, and the infamous Abbot will have to find another way to fund the building of his private multi million pound monastery.
It Isn’t Over Yet.
The tigers are currently being taken to government facilities and refuges in Ratchaburi province as a temporary measure. No exact details have been given at the time of writing.
I fully take on board the argument that these facilities may not be perfect, but at the very least they will no longer be abused and exploited for tourists pleasure and amusement, and that has to be a vast improvement on their quality of life.
Either way, the tigers cannot be kept in temporary enclosures forever, and it is my hope that the international community will keep up the pressure and the scrutiny that has forced the Thai authorities to act so far, and wildlife conservation charities and organisations will work alongside the Thai government to create something better for these rescued tigers.
It is obvious they will never be able to be reintroduced back into the wild, but 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 them. After a lifetime of abuse, it is the very least they deserve.
The Thai authorities have a real chance to learn exactly how profitable real responsible and ethical tourism can be. They can respond to the cries of the international community and still reap the benefits of the tourism industry by protecting and caring for the very resource travellers want to see.
I have said before, 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.
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.