Tiger Temple

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Tiger Temple, or Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua, is a Theravada Buddhist temple in western Thailand that was founded in 1994 as a forest temple and sanctuary for wild animals, among them several tigers, mostly Indo-chinese Tigers. The temple is located in the Saiyok district of Thailand's Kanchanaburi province, not far from the border with Myanmar, some 38 km (24 mi) north-west of Kanchanaburi along the 323 highway.

Contents

The tigers

Monk walking tiger on a leash
Monk and tigers during walk in the quarry
Tourists observing the tigers
Visitors can take a photo with a grown tiger or a small cub

In 1999, the temple received the first tiger cub, one that had been found by villagers; it died soon after. Later, several tiger cubs were given to the temple, typically when the mothers had been killed by poachers, people whose "pet" tigers were getting too big, or those who had to when the laws about the keeping protected species became more strict.[1] As of 2007, over 21 cubs had been born at the temple, and the total number of tigers was about 12 adult tigers and 4 cubs. As of May 2012, the total number of tigers living at the temple has risen to over 100[citation needed].

The temple charges a 600 Baht admission fee (March 2011 about US$19) and 1000 Baht for an opportunity to photograph with a tiger to raise funds to care for the animals. There are doubts, however, that tigers do receive satisfactory care at the temple (see Criticism section below). Day trips also available from Bangkok and the journey takes about 2.5 hours. The temple sees between 300 and 600 visitors each day. There are donation boxes around the temple for those who wish to help support the sanctuary. For a fee, visitors may join in the tigers' morning or evening exercise programme. No more than 20 visitors may do this at a time. The temple staff says it costs US$100 per tiger each day for the their feeding and care. Western staff sell the additional services, although the handlers usually are local Thai women.

Guests can engage in other activities with the tigers. These include bottle feeding tiger cubs, exercising adolescent tigers, bathing tigers, hand-feeding tigers and posing with sleeping adult tigers.

The tigers are washed and handled by Thai monks, international volunteers and the local Thai staff. Once a day, they are walked on leashes to a nearby quarry. Originally they would roam around freely, but with the increase in visitors and the number of tigers, they are chained for safety. The staff closely guide visitors as they greet, sit with, and pet the cats. The staff keep the tigers under control and the abbot will intervene if a tiger becomes agitated. The entry fee goes to feeding the animals, and also to fund building a larger tiger sanctuary which will allow the animals to live in an almost natural environment. Portions of the new sanctuary are already open and inhabited with tigers, but other parts are in construction as they need the right fencing around the moat to keep the tigers from leaving the sanctuary. The temple is reforesting a large amount of land nearby ('Buddhist Park') to possibly release the tigers into the wild in the future.

Because of a lack of managed breeding programmes and publicly available DNA data, the pedigree of the tigers is not known. However, it is presumed they are Indochinese Tigers, except Mek, who is a Bengal Tiger. It is possible that some may be the newly discovered Malayan Tigers, while many probably are cross breeds or hybrids.

Criticism and reports on animal abuse

It is claimed that the Tiger Temple's philosophy for animal conservation is flawed and involves malnutrition, physical abuse, horrible living conditions, and use of sedatives to calm tigers.[2] Care for the Wild International claimed that based on information collected between 2005 and 2008 the Tiger Temple is involved in clandestine exchange of tigers with the owner of a tiger farm in Laos contravening the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species and national laws of Thailand and Laos. It claimed it operates as a tiger breeding facility without having a respective license as required under the Thai Wild Animals Reservation and Protection Act of 1992.[3]

Since the report by Care for the Wild International, a coalition of 39 prominent conservation groups, including the Humane Society International, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the World Society for the Protection of Animals and the World Wide Fund for Nature, have penned a letter to the Director General of National Parks in Thailand under the name 'The International Tiger Coalition'.[4] This letter urges the Director General to take action against the Tiger Temple over its import and export of 12 tigers with Laos, its lack of connection with accredited conservation breeding programmes, and to genetically test the tigers at the Tiger Temple in order to determine their pedigree and value to tiger conservation programmes. It concludes that the 'Temple does not have the facilities, the skills, the relationships with accredited zoos, or even the desire to manage its tigers in an appropriate fashion. Instead, it is motivated both in display of the tigers to tourists and in its illegal trading of tigers purely by profit.'

Other animals in the Tiger Temple

References

External links

Coordinates: 14°6′57″N 99°13′53″E / 14.11583°N 99.23139°E / 14.11583; 99.23139