“Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!” Remember that line from The Wizard of Oz? Well, Dorothy is not in Kansas anymore, folks.
There’s a tourist attraction in Thailand called Tiger Temple that was popularized by an Animal Planet show several years ago. Now, Tiger Temple welcomes hundreds of international visitors per day through its doors. At first this seems like an exciting place to be. Tourists walk freely among the tigers and for a fee can pose for photographs while sitting with, holding and petting the large cats.
Tiger Temple claims it began its purpose as a wildlife sanctuary for tigers, a species that is endangered worldwide. Its official website reads more like the tourist attraction it is. The website says eight cubs were brought to Tiger Temple in 1999 and because of that it now functions as a sanctuary. Tiger Temple’s official name is Wat Pa Luangta Bua Yannasampanno Forest Monastery where Buddhist monks live and supposedly worship among the tigers and other wildlife living there.
UNDERCOVER INVESTIGATION INTO TIGER TEMPLE
An organization called Care for the Wild International (CWI) wrote a 26-page report after an exhaustive three-year-undercover investigation resulting from numerous complaints by volunteers and tourists as to the abusive and neglectful conditions under which the tigers are living. It says “Tiger Temple’s success is based around claims that its tigers were rescued from poachers and live and move freely and peacefully amongst the temple’s monks, who are actively engaged in conservation and rescue work.”
According to first-hand reports, this is simply not true.
Sybelle Foxcroft, an Australian scientist who worked at Tiger Temple starting in April 2007 as part of her university studies on Indochinese tigers in captivity, reports she witnessed abuse and neglect from her first day on duty:
“As I was originally there to research the Indochinese Tiger captive care, the research quickly became an up close look at abuse and wildlife trade… During April and May 2007 I was purely there as a University researcher, and began the evidence collection then. On my return home to Australia, I was put in contact with a conservation group called Care for the Wild International who, knowing that I was going back, asked me to be an undercover investigator for them. They were apparently conducting an investigation into the temple.”
Foxcroft’s responsibilities as a researcher were to feed and care for the tigers and other animals, walk the tigers (from their cages to the Tiger Canyon once daily for interaction with visitors) and look after the tourists. As an undercover investigator for CWI she documented routine beatings of the tigers, poor dietary practices leading to malnutrition, medical issues and death. Tigers were kept 21 to 24 hours per day in small concrete cages with no accessibility to the outside or stimulation for the cats to satisfy their natural need to roam and entertain themselves. And worse, she observed a systematic routine of abuse meant to control the tiger’s behavior. One such method included collecting their urine and spraying it on other tiger’s faces to force submission to the humans.
Even worse than all of that, Foxcroft reports bearing witness to the illegal practice of tiger trafficking. Tigers are sedated and loaded onto a truck in the middle of the night and sent to a Tiger farm in Laos. New cubs are brought into Tiger Temple and given the names of those tigers that were trafficked away in an attempt to hide the true identities of tigers living there.
With the advent of pattern recognition software, tigers, even in the wild, can be individually identified. Foxcroft documented the scientific stripe ID of Tiger Temple’s large cats during her time there and can prove, scientifically, the new cubs given the names of older tigers who were removed, are not one in the same. Tiger stripe ID works because all animals born with stripes or spots (tigers, giraffes, zebras, leopards, lions, etc.) have unique markings that can be identified scientifically, just like human fingerprints.
CWI’s report goes on to say:
“Whilst the Tiger Temple claims it received its first tigers legitimately as animals rescued from poachers, CWI has obtained evidence that, rather than continuing as a rescue centre, the Temple now operates as a breeding facility and is involved in the clandestine exchange of tigers with the owner of a tiger farm in Laos. These actions contravene Thai, Laos and international law (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species in Wild Fauna and Flora – CITES.)”
Tiger Temple Abbot, Pra Acharn Phusit (Chan) Khantitharo was observed by Foxcroft as only spending time around the tigers in front of the media. She says neither the Abbot nor any of the other monks care for, or interact with, the tigers and other animals except during media coverage. She is also quick to point out that this is atypical behavior for Buddhist monks, who normally have a sense of humility and consider being able to discover cessation of suffering as a path to enlightenment.
Clearly there has been documented abuse and neglect at Tiger Temple. Foxcroft is determined to see that the tigers and other animals are taken out of harm’s way. To that end she has started a Care2 petition with the goal of 10,000 signatures which will be presented to CITES (Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species, both Flora and Fauna), UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme), the Thai Government and “every person that I can think of who may be able to help,” says Foxcroft. The petition has garnered over 2,500 signatures to date.
Back in Australia Foxcroft has started a private organization called CEE-4-Life (Conservation and Environmental Education 4 Life) to educate the public and bring awareness into schools on endangered species and environmental issues. She is striving to educate the world using actual hard facts about the extinction of animal species and biodiversity. The effort will be global as this is a global issue. There will also be an animal investigation side to the organization.
WHAT IS A TIGER FARM?
As of May 10th, there are now 72 tigers living at Tiger Temple. The Abbot has intentions of building that number to a goal of 300, minimum. None of the current 60 or so staff members who care for the tigers have an animal education background or any tiger handling training.
So what exactly is a tiger farm? Just like the name implies, a tiger farm is run solely for the breeding of numerous tigers to sell into the wildlife trafficking trade for the illegal use of medicinal body parts and fur. Bottom line…it’s about profit.
In traditional Chinese medicine a tiger is considered tantamount to a walking drug store. Eyeballs are rolled into pills for epilepsy; whiskers used for toothaches and the tiger’s brain to treat laziness and pimples. A tiger’s tail is used for skin diseases, soap and ointment, while bones are used to treat rheumatism, weakness or paralysis, even in the attempt to ward off evil spirits.
A tiger’s penis is made into soup for longevity and virility. Tiger wine (crushed bones and marrow of tiger bones infused into wine) is used as a tonic. Some dip tiger’s feet in palm oil and hang at their front door to diminish evil spirits from entering. Tiger skin is said to cure a fever caused by ghosts and tiger gallstones are used with honey for abscesses.
Many believe burnt tiger hair drives away centipedes, while a claw enables courage and protects one from sudden fright. A tiger’s heart is believed to produce strength, cunning and courage, while the floating ribs of a tiger are considered good luck. Tiger metatarsals tied to a child is said to prevent convulsions.
Understand, none of this has been scientifically proven; they are simply myths, but belief in these myths is a major cause of the extinction of the wild tiger sub-species.
TIGERS FACING EXTINCTION
In 1983 Thailand signed the CITES agreement banning all commercial trade in wildlife. The Environmental Investigation Association (EIA) reported that it was not until Thailand faced wildlife trade sanctions under CITES in 1991 that domestic legislation was adapted to implement CITES. This legislation was The Wild Animals Preservation and Protection Act, WAPPA, B.E 2535 (1992). WAPPA does not allow hunting, trading or selling of tigers.
Foxcroft says “CITES works by subjecting international trade in specimens of selected species to certain controls. All import, export, re-exports and introduction from the sea of species covered by the Convention has to be authorized through a licensing system. Each Party to the Convention must designate one or more Management Authorities in charge of administering that licensing system, and one or more Scientific Authorities to advise them on the effects of trade on the status of the species.”
CWI’s Exploiting the Tiger Report states:
“There is no evidence that such permits have been issued to export tigers from the Temple – nor should there be, since the Temple is not registered with the Thai authorities as an appropriate institution. However, CWI investigators uncovered evidence indicating that a number of animals have both arrived at and left the Temple in international exchange or sales deals with a tiger breeding establishment in Laos.”
Want to help Thailand’s tigers? Sign the petition and spread the word. And if you are planning a trip to Thailand any time soon, don’t visit Tiger Temple in Kanchanaburi.
Foxcroft is also running a campaign on Facebook, “Behind the Cloak of Buddha” to help raise awareness of what is happening to the animals at Tiger Temple.
Please watch the video of Foxcroft’s first day at Tiger Temple in April 2007. The lack of affect in the tiger’s behavior is almost surreal. See what you think…
Check out Tiger Temple Truths.
Photo of courtesy of Sybelle Foxcroft shows the tigress Sangetwan; she has been used for breeding for the past 10 years.