Cry Of The Tiger

Written by Andrew Marshall

Posted on 14 August 2010

Cry Of The Tiger

Published in Good Weekend/Sydney Morning Herald

CRY OF THE TIGER
On the surface, it’s a heart-warming story of humans riding to the rescue of a critically endangered species. But critics claim there is a dark side to Thailand’s Tiger Temple.

By Andrew Marshall  Photos by Patrick Brown/Panos

Three hours west of Bangkok lies a Buddhist temple where monks walk tigers on leashes and tourists play with cubs. Sound unique? It should be. But there are two competing versions of the so-called Tiger Temple. For many tourists, it is a sanctuary. Tigers rescued from taxidermists and traders doze contentedly in the sun. They enjoy a spiritual bond with the monks, who breed the animals in a valiant attempt to conserve a critically endangered species.

For others, including international tiger conservation groups, it is a circus. The tigers are abused, exploited and kept in cramped conditions exacerbated by uncontrolled breeding – for profit, not conservation. Sometimes, they vanish into the very trade from which they were supposedly rescued.

So which is the real Tiger Temple?

Australians should care about the answer: they visit the temple in greater numbers than any other nationality. To mark the Chinese Year of the Tiger, I set out to investigate – and, largely thanks to foreign volunteers who work or have worked at the temple, I unearthed some disturbing facts.

The tigers are not, as the temple’s website says, “hand-reared with compassion by monks”. Instead, say some volunteers, they are punched, kicked and beaten by badly paid and unqualified handlers to keep them subdued for tourists. Living conditions are grim: dozens of fully grown tigers are kept in small cages and never let out. Veterinary care is poor. Money that tourists are told is dedicated to the tigers’ welfare never reaches them.

And even though the temple cannot adequately care for the tigers, it is breeding more. Lots more. The temple promotes itself as a home for rescued tigers, but nearly all of its 72 tigers have been bred on site. The purpose? Money, say the disillusioned volunteers. Petting sessions with tiger cubs alone can earn the temple more than $1000 a day.

“The temple is built on a foundation of lies,” says Sybelle Foxcroft, a former volunteer who runs a Facebook campaign against the temple from her home in Macleod, Victoria. “Australians will be appalled.”

So far, the temple has successfully shrugged off such criticism. There are two main reasons for this. First, the Thai wildlife officials tasked with scrutinising it do nothing. Second, tourists from Australia and other countries either don’t know or don’t care about the true conditions, and continue to pour through its gates.

*

THE TIGER TEMPLE – formally known as Wat Pa Luangta Bua Forest Monastery – is in Kanchanaburi province, a 30-minute drive from another major tourist attraction, the bridge over the River Kwai. Most visitors arrive in the searing midday heat. The entrance ticket, which costs 500 baht ($A17), is also a legal waiver – a number of visitors and volunteers have been bitten or mauled by the tigers.

“I understand that there are many animals on the temple grounds that have come from the wild and that they may not be tame,” reads the ticket. “I understand that I must exercise caution around these animals, as carelessness may result in personal injury.” To indemnify the temple, visitors must sign and hand the ticket to a guard before they are allowed to enter.

Pacing on short thick chains beneath the trees are a dozen or more tigers, aged from eight months to more than three years old – adults, in tiger terms. Each animal has two or three Thai handlers. Also in the area are at least six foreign volunteers, who shoo away tourists who get too close.

The abbot appears. Phra Acharn Phusit (Chan) Khantitharo, 59, is a short, shaven-headed man with thick glasses. Tucked into his robes is a walkie-talkie. Although he carries a walking stick, he is sprightly, as you might expect from a man who – so the legend goes – cured himself of leukaemia by meditating. “He was a dead man walking,” Richie Stevenson, an Australian volunteer, tells tourists. “He didn’t take any Western medication. He didn’t do chemo or radium. He just meditated his way out of it.”

The abbot’s appearance means it’s time for “walkies”. While the tigers are unchained, tourists are instructed to retreat to a “safety area” – a terrace overlooking an excrement-strewn concrete pen holding four or five tigers. Then we set off in 15-strong groups, each led by a monk with a tiger on  a leash. Everyone gets a chance to touch the tiger’s back, while staff and  volunteers take photos. The abbot, walking the biggest tiger, comes last.

A few minutes later we arrive at “the canyon”, actually an abandoned quarry with an artificial waterfall and a few small trees. “Okay, folks, grab a seat for us.” It is Stevenson. A 37-year-old electrician from Queensland, he describes himself to me as “a simple man with the greatest love for the temple and the abbot”. The tigers lie down on the canyon floor, where they are chained up. They are lethargic, half-asleep. One suspicion – that they are sedated – is so persistent the temple makes great efforts to deny it. “Basically,” Stevenson tells tourists in the canyon, “our cats have been fed, they’ve been exercised, their metabolism slows down, and they go and have a nice nap for us.”

He then explains the canyon’s “rules and options”. First, everyone must “tiger-proof” themselves by removing hats, bags and sunglasses. “One last thing, folks,” says Stevenson. “No talking to the cats as you pass them or as you’re patting them. These guys are only asleep. You don’t want to wake one up.” Later, he warns: “These animals know how to kill you.”

And the options? Everybody can, for no further charge, pose beside the tigers. There are also what Stevenson calls “special photo” opportunities. For a 1000-baht “contribution” groups can pose with a tiger, with one person holding the tiger’s head on their lap. “You get heaps of photos, heaps of angles,” enthuses Stevenson. Almost everyone pays the extra fee.

Staff lead the tourists into the canyon. Some tourists grin and hold the tigers’ tails. One man tries to lie down beside a tiger, which raises its giant head and growls. Staff jump in and the animal falls quiet again.

*

SO IF IT isn’t drugs, why are these natural born killers so docile? In a controversial 2008 report, a British group called Care for the Wild International (CWI) said the tigers were “badly maltreated to make them compliant and perform for visitors” and accused the temple of “systematic physical abuse”. The tigers, alleged CWI, were kicked, punched, whipped and struck with sticks and rocks. “Although the Tiger Temple may have begun as a rescue centre,” it concluded, “it has become a breeding centre to produce and keep tigers solely for the tourists’ and therefore the Temple’s benefit.”

Athithat Srimanee, manager of the temple’s foundation, called CWI’s investigators – among them Sybelle Foxcroft – “biased” and denied the tigers were mistreated. “As for pulling the tail andpunching tigers on the head, these are ways to make a tiger obey,” he told The Nation, an English-language newspaper published in Bangkok, in February. “It is similar to training dogs or elephants. Some physical pain is needed to discipline them for pictures.”

Peter Fripp from Coledale, NSW, agrees. He spent two “very positive” months volunteering at the temple last year and saw nothing he’d describe as cruel. “They’re disciplined, but they’re not abused,” says Fripp. “It’s like training a dog.”

But two Westerners, with three years’ recent experience of working at the temple between them, couldn’t disagree more. Sam (a pseudonym) is an ex-volunteer who requested anonymity. Annika Pedersen is a former temple employee who left after filming video footage of what she calls “staff molesting the animals”.

The temple usually has up to a dozen foreign volunteers, who help to sell the special photo packages and reassure visitors about the tigers’ well-being. “We make the temple look good,” admits Sam. But many volunteers are animal lovers who, while thrilled at the chance to work with  tigers, are disturbed by their treatment.

“There’s abuse every day,” says Sam. On a recent afternoon in the canyon, staff threw chairs at the tigers, then whipped them with their leashes. “A year ago, the violence was less blatant. Now they do it in front of the tourists. They don’t care.”

Pedersen, 40, from Denmark, tells similar horror stories. Earlier this year, an 18-month-old tiger called Diamond was discovered with an  abscess where one of his canine teeth should  have been. Alex – who believes somebody smashed out the tooth to sell it – says she had  to fight to get Diamond medical attention. “That’s what made me think, ‘I can’t be a part of this any more.’ It opened my eyes.”

This testimony is backed up by another long-time volunteer, Åsa Hellström, who abandoned her veterinary studies in Sweden to assist the temple’s solitary vet. “Tigers are very strong and dangerous predators,” says Hellström. “You need to be firm with them. But there is a very big difference between being firm and abusing them.  I think a lot of the handlers are abusing them.”

*

DURING MY THREE trips to the temple, I saw staff positioning tigers for photos by pulling their tails. The CWI report claims this can cause spinal damage and paralysis. When I put this to Somchai Visasmongkolchai, the temple vet, he bursts out laughing. “You see?” he cries, pointing to tigers chained to the quarry floor. “Which tiger [is] paralysed?”

But another allegation – that tourist money meant for tiger welfare is spent on other projects – is harder to laugh off. Richie Stevenson tells tourists the 1000 baht they pay for “special photos” goes to Tiger Island. “It’s a brand new habitat that we’re building for all our cats,” he says.

The temple’s critics scoff at this, pointing out that Tiger Island, a five-hectare enclosure surrounded by a moat, has been under construction since 2003. In 2005, according to its website, the temple raised its entrance fee from 300 to 500 baht “to speed up construction”. In 2008, a temple brochure claimed the island was 90 per cent complete at a cost of 60 million baht. By now, 65 million baht has been spent, calculates Somchai. I ask him if there’s been any progress since 2008. “It’s 90 per cent finished,” he says.

The finances of Thai temples – even those funded mostly by foreigners – are opaque. This troubled Karen Earp, who previously worked at a British animal sanctuary run by the RSPCA. After volunteering at the temple in March 2006, she wrote a blog praising the abbot as “a remarkable man with boundless compassion for all creatures”. She felt the tigers spent too much time in cages, but believed this would change when Tiger Island opened. Earp calculated that, with 280 visitors a day, the temple could within a year raise the money needed to complete it.

But by 2008, in an update to her website, Earp had changed her tune. “Why are the tigers caged nearly 2  years later?” she asked, pointing out that visitor numbers had “increased dramatically” and that the entrance fee had been raised. “Where is all the money going?”

So, where is it going? The 500-baht entrance fee is spent on animal food, staff salaries, building repairs and “government taxes”, says Somchai. But the revenue generated by “special photos” is apparently spent on an array of projects, many of which have nothing to do with tiger welfare.

According to Somchai, recent outgoings include a donation of one million baht to a revered Thai monk, 100,000 baht to Haiti earthquake relief and 700,000 baht in donations to Thai police and soldiers. Tourist revenues are also helping to construct a one-billion-baht Buddhist ceremonial hall.

But if the temple is struggling to raise enough funds to care for the tigers it already has, as Stevenson laments, why is it breeding more? Its tiger population has tripled in four years. “I think it’s stupid,” says vet assistant Hellström. “They should not breed that many tigers. They don’t need them. They don’t have room for them.” Sam, the volunteer, says 27 adult tigers live in 18 cages measuring about three metres by six metres. The cages are mostly bare, with no toys to enrich the environment. “The tigers are in there 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” says Sam.

Sybelle Foxcroft believes the temple is turning into a tiger farm. “Why else would you continually breed tigers if you have no cages to put them in?” she says. I ask the abbot almost the same question during a brief audience. He sits on a concrete plinth beneath a tree, while I respectfully crouch at his feet, not unlike a tiger.

The abbot explains that nature is left to its own devices at the temple; not just tigers but all animals are permitted to breed. When a tiger is on heat, he asks with a laugh, “what can I do?” A Thai staff member who is helping to translate adds, “Male and female – if it happens, it happens.”

*

THIS SUPPOSEDLY laissez-faire attitude to breeding produces even more crowded conditions for the tigers. But it also produces the temple’s biggest money-spinner: babies.

Four times a day, the temple invites groups of up to 10 tourists to private petting sessions with tiger cubs. These sessions generate up to $1300 a day for the temple, calculates Sam. Tourists can also bottle-feed the cubs as part of a four-hour morning program costing 5000 baht. CWI claims the abbot once said that he “likes to have cubs at the temple all the time for the tourists”.

Despite their high value, cubs are also mishandled. Sam saw one staffer carry a fragile newborn by its legs, “the way you’d carry a dead rabbit”, and claims six cubs have died in the past year. Lucrative cub-petting sessions make a mockery of the temple’s promise to one day release tigers “back into the wild, onto a reserve”. Its website admits the tigers are “too familiar with humans” to fend for themselves. Not so “the next generation,” it continues. “They will have little human contact. They will be trained to hunt and feed themselves.” Sam is unconvinced, saying that within weeks of their birth, cubs are taken from their mothers to be fondled by hundreds of tourists.

Sam says the temple currently has 20 cubs;  two more tigers are thought to be pregnant. Temple-bred cubs will also be used to stock a  sister project: a “tiger resort” near the tourist city of Pattaya. Its foreign manager, who asked not  to be named, said another well-known Thai abbot would preside over the resort.

Perhaps the most withering appraisal of the temple’s conservation program comes from the International Tiger Coalition (ITC), an alliance of at least 35 groups dedicated to eradicating the trade in tigers. “[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,” concluded the ITC in 2008. Motivated by profit, the temple made “no contribution whatsoever to wild tiger conservation”.

In fact, the temple does not have a licence to breed tigers – or even to keep them in captivity. This is why, in 2002, the Thai government’s Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) officially confiscated them. However, the animals were allowed to remain  at the temple “temporarily, while waiting for  their relocation to a more suitable sanctuary”,  explained Damrong Kraikruan, a senior Thai diplomat, in a letter to the ITC last year.

This raises a serious question. Why has the temple been allowed to breed and profit from confiscated tigers for almost eight years? Many blame the DNP, which declined my request for an interview. “It continues to let tiger numbers grow, without question or action,” says Foxcroft.

The DNP has done something else to outrage the temple’s critics. In June 2009, it granted a Thai company a licence to run a zoo on land adjoining the temple. It will be stocked with every surviving subspecies of tiger, as well as indigenous Thai animals such as the marbled cat and leopard cat. “A learning centre about the feline family!” enthuses Somchai. “This is the Tiger World concept.”

Another allegation in the CWI report – that the temple is illegally trading in tigers – is hard to prove. Even foreign volunteers have trouble tracking the tigers under their care. Some don’t stay long enough to confidently identify individual animals, or they get muddled by the tigers’ Thai names.

Requesting anonymity, the webmaster of the online pressure group tigertempletruths.org gave me a list of eight tigers said to have vanished from the temple, allegedly traded. The temple has repeatedly denied all involvement in tiger trading. However, Somchai was evasive when I challenged him about these “missing” tigers.

Take a mature male called Mek, one of the  temple’s eight original tigers. Activists claim he disappeared from public view about five years ago. So where is Mek? Twice I ask Somchai this simple question. Twice he doesn’t answer it.

So I ask: Is Mek dead?

“Yes,” replies Somchai. “Death is death.”

“So is that particular tiger gone?”

“Death is death,” says Somchai. “Gone is gone.”

I ask again: So Mek is dead? “Dead is dead, yes,” snaps Somchai. The animal’s death had been reported to the government, he adds.

Mek’s whereabouts have been the subject of rumour ever since the CWI report alleged the tiger had been traded. So why not refute such allegations by simply announcing that the tiger had died? “In Eastern way,” explains Somchai, “when something dies, it’s not big news.”

Mek’s alleged death is news to Fiona Patchett, a student of veterinary nursing from New Zealand. Patchett was a volunteer when Mek, then one of just 12 tigers at the temple, vanished. “He was there one day and the next day he wasn’t,” she says. “I wanted to see him before he left, but the abbot said, ‘No, he’s been loaded up and he’s gone.’ ” Mek had been sent to a tiger farm in neighbouring Laos, the abbot told her.

Patchett was sad but stoic. “At the time I thought it was a legitimate trade,” she says. Later she realised shipping tigers across borders is against Thai and international law. Mek is just one tiger involved in a “clandestine exchange” between the temple and a Laotian breeding facility, alleges CWI.

I ask Somchai about the other tigers on my list. Three more of them are dead. “We report to government,” he says. The next three on the list are “okay”, although Somchai only shows me one of them. And the eighth tiger? His patience is running out; he bats away the hand in which I’m holding my list. “The government knows everything,” he says. “Why make a news? For what?”

*

ÅSA HELLSTRÖM is “angry and upset” with how the temple treats its tigers. But she believes that, with outside help and proper management of tourist revenue, conditions could be improved. “They need more vets,” she says. “They need to educate the staff. And they need to open up Tiger Island.” Others feel the temple is beyond reform. “It should be shut down,” says Sam.

The temple’s critics won’t be easily silenced. But nor, it seems, do they really have to be while Thai wildlife officials tacitly bless the temple and uncritical tourists continue to visit. And uncritical tour agencies: while Billetkontoret, a big Danish travel firm, now boycotts the temple, many others – including leading Australian companies such as Flight Centre and Qantas Holidays – are still offering Tiger Temple tours.

“Touching a tiger is an amazing experience,” says Patchett. “But I’d like tourists to think about what the animal must go through to give them that experience. Most people who go to the temple don’t care. They just want the photo.”

37 Comments

  1. chang dek says:

    In 2004 I was visiting the Tiger temple, as usual I took some video pictures, we were one of the last visitors to leave, I was visiting with a senior member of a Thai children’s foundation. When we arrived at the gate to leave a monk told us we had to pay an extra THB 500 each to leave because we had been taking video pictures. We told them we had already paid the admission fee. He refused to let us out until we paid. After about 30 minutes of negotiating, (it was now pitch dark and the gate was locking us in on the wildlife side of the temple) the monk decided he would settle on a litre of Mekong whisky and a carton of cigarettes, which we could conveniently purchase at the shop outside the gate under the same roof as the ticket counter.

  2. Thank you Andrew for writing this, I really hope more eyes will open. I wish that all of you who read this think again before visiting the Temple. I know it sounds awesome to have your picture taken with these amazing animals and it is, but the horror they go through for you to be able to have the picture is just not right. I have raised at least 20 cubs from the age of 3 weeks until they are handed over to the Thai-staff , at around the age of 4-5 months. I was a volunteer 2 times, once in 2008 and again in 2009, then I was lucky (I thought) to get a job. The Abbott put me in charge of the volunteer program, as the girl who was before me had left her job. Most volunteers who come through are there for the right reasons, the love of animals. Without them the animals will never have that, for the Thais the tigers are tools to get money.
    The tigers in particular get a lot of love and we try to enrich their lives as much as possible. Not a single Baht were given to us to use on the animals and the Thai staff don’t want toys and stuff in the cages because they have to clean it. No money is spend on the tigers, except for the money that is use for food. The medical care that are provided is a laugh. As it is a Buddhist Monastery they do not believe in putting animals to sleep as we do in the western world, they are left to suffer and die. Usually that means that the volunteers and foreign staff have to look at this poor animal desperately trying to ease any pain without any means to do so until it dies, it is very frustrating and not something you would like to see for yourself – it’s horrible and gets tears running.
    The tigers gets beaten, physical and mentally abuse is an everyday event, the Thais are terrified of the Tigers, it’s in their blood and they have no desire to learn from anyone, even if many have offered to come to the Temple and help. If a tiger misbehaves it will be taken back to its cage and then beaten…It can take hours before punishment comes and the Thai expect the animal to understand what it did wrong. Almost every day the cubs age 4-5 month do a little walk for tourists from Tiger Island to the gate and back, when they come to the gate it looks good that they walk without a lead and are all cute. Cute they are but the lead is on until the gate and the cats are scared with loud noises as banging on metal or broken wheel barrows, beaten, kicked and pulled by the tail to make them walk.
    Personally I have never seen any drugs being used on the tigers, without the vet Dr. Somchai present and being there for medical reasons.
    I lost a lot of faith in Buddhism and question how can people who should be kind and generous to all living creatures do this? I can only hope Karma will show its face soon. We did all we could and even if we feel very torn about leaving the animals behind we just couldn’t take it anymore and it was like banging your head against a concrete wall, just hurting every day. I was lucky to be there with Aasa and we had eachother to lean on and we could take up a fight together. We lost the big battle but we had small victories for the animals now and again. I am happy that Danish Travel Companies are closing down on the tours to the Tiger temple, Thailand I hope more will follow. Annika

  3. Good work, Andrew. Hopefully this reached a greater number of people, Australians in particular. Education and information is the key to halt this kind of tourism. Thank you for this further exposure of this animal exploitation facility. Sybelle Foxcroft, CEO cee4life

  4. Stuart says:

    Great write-up. The Tiger Temple is a festering sore that should have been shut down (or at least “de-tigered”) years ago. When I visited the TAT in Kanchanaburi and asked them about it, they pointedly said they wanted to have nothing to do with it and asked that we [www.travelfish.org] either not list it, or at least work to give potential visitors a better idea of what was going on. It’s a shame some of the major guidebook publisher’s (who the Australian visitors you mention probably use as an information source) didn’t do the same.

  5. JANG says:

    Bravo! Hopefully, things will change for better.

  6. Joy Hazle says:

    I so admire people like you Andrew Marshall, for writing such an investigative report, and therefore initiating public awareness of the terrible exploitation of such beautiful and noble creatures for the sake of monetary gain. I hope that a collective conscience can somehow put an end to this.

  7. D says:

    Yours is the best investigative report I’ve seen on this yet.

    However, I don’t understand how this place STILL hasn’t had its animals confiscated yet. What exactly is stopping this from happening? Resources and money? The apathy of the Thai wildlife officials? The Thai government? I just don’t understand it.

    People have known about this and complained about it for years — but what can we DO? I’m sick of sitting around raising “awareness” and futilely “hoping” for things to improve. If I have a neighbor who abuses their dog, I don’t sit around thinking ‘oh gee, I HOPE they stop mistreating their dog soon LOLZ :(
    No, I report them. It is completely frustrating to me that no one is making real, active progress in this case.

  8. Andrew Marshall says:

    Hi D,

    You could try writing to the DNP . . .

    Mr Jatuporn Buruspat
    Director-General
    Department of National Parks,
    Wildlife & Plant Conservation
    61 Pholyothin Road
    Bangkok 10900

    . . . but its head-in-the-sand attitude towards the temple doesn’t bode well for a reply. More effective, I think, is to ask tour operators such as Flight Centre and Qantas Holidays to explain their support for the temple. But in the end, as you suggest, somebody has to go in and take care of the tigers – and that is the DNP’s job. It’s disheartening.

  9. Banana says:

    Isn’t it blatantly obvious why the tiger temple hasn’t been shut down? The answer is right here in the article “700,000 baht in donations to Thai police and soldiers.” Those aren’t donations- it’s bribe money!! In a corrupt land of gov’t officials, this is EXACTLY why they turn their heads away and do nothing. The best way to stop this is to indeed to stop the supply chain or get an organization like Avaaz to get a petition with +250,000 signatures from potential tourists saying they won’t come visit Thailand until it is stopped- Thailand hugely depends on tourism and so if the threat of a bigger loss is made public, then maybe they won’t stop turning away… this is a great article, thank you Andrew! Let’s get this article spread to all western countries….wow, I can’t believe they actually admit that “pain is necessary” like it’s acceptable. Why do the tigers deserve pain in the first place, for human entertainment? I’m more upset by ignorant people who don’t see or care and feed into it.

  10. Shauna Gavigan says:

    Thank you so much for writing this article, Andrew, it’s the best one I’ve see yet. I was a volunteer at Tiger Temple for 3mo, at the beginning of 2009. I felt so blessed to be apart of it all when I first got there. I thought I was at a place where the monks cared, and the staff was helpful and knowledgeable, and I thought there was a purpose to the whole thing. Well I found out quick that my romantic ideas of monks helping the tigers was nothing more than an illusion. I witness the beatings and mental abuse first hand. I saw the squalid living conditions the tigers had to endure. And I actually helped with the carnival freak show. And soon felt like an outsider who was powerless to change the Temple, instead of a helpful volunteer.

    I did what I could to help care for and enrich the lives of every tiger I handled. I also tried a few times to teach the Thai staff a different, gentler way doing things rather than their “Scare Tactics” approach. But I was met with much anger and defiance. Saying their way was the right way, and who are we (Farang: meaning foreigner) to try to come in and change the way they’ve been doing it for so long. They think of the tigers as beasts, to be dominated and paraded for money. I never once saw any attempt to drug the tigers, and I was very much apart of the entire day to day operations, and had been in almost every nook and cranny of the compound. So I do believe they do not drug them. As well, being very interested in Buddhism as I was before I came there, I was appalled and constantly conflicted after I saw the way the monks lived and treated the tigers. “How can that be Buddhism” I thought.

    Something has to change. We should be sending this article to every travel agency all over the world, every one of us. As well we should get Avaaz to get some sort of petition going to make the DNP deal with this situation. We should also ask for help from the Wildlife organizations all over the world. But know, that when this all gets busted open, all hell is going to break loose. The corruption in the Thai government and Police will come to light, as well as the terrible veterinary care the tigers receive, and the Thai staff and monks are going to be exposed for the cruelty and abuse they have inflicted on the tigers. My hope is that when this happens, all 80 tigers wont just be euthanized. But what zoo’s and sanctuary’s are going to want ill trained, often aggressive tigers? I know I will do every thing I can to make sure the Tigers are saved, the Temple be dammed!

  11. tracy says:

    thank you for publishing this article. i was not aware of this issue and i am outrages!

  12. tracy says:

    oops! pardon my typo! how can we share this article on facebook?

  13. Andrew Marshall says:

    Tracy, To share, just press the Facebook button at the foot of this page. Thanks for your interest.

  14. xvolunteer says:

    Fantastic article, but does not mention the tiger, from the temple, that has been given to a thai politician for one year to care for as a pet until it reaches a year old.

  15. An excellent and insightful article Andrew, many thanks!

  16. Jane says:

    Tiger Temple was one place I wanted to visit, but thanks to this article I won’t be going, ever. A shame because I love tigers. I visited Thailand in 1998 and the poverty angle really stared you in the face, I can understand why corruption will never be eradicated there and that’s basically why things won’t change but I hope the people who are fighting for change never give up for the tigers’ sake.

  17. Annika Pedersen says:

    Reply for xvolunteer…I think the Tiger you are thinking of is Isara, a male cub from a litter of five..he vanished over night when only a few weeks old when I was on my second volunteer period in April09. The story told to us was that he was at another Monastery in Thailand. He actually came back, I can’t remember exactly when but before he was one year old, more likely 8-9 months old in the very end of 2009 or beginning of 2010. He came back acting like a dog. He had apparently had company of a rottweiler, which makes me believe that he wasn’t at a Monastery, rather than at a home. He had no tiger skills and was terrified of everything, also he was just put back in the cage with his brothers and sisters without any time to adjust at all, luckily they seemed to remember him and was pretty good to him, thank someone for that, because he also had to adjust to the life of beatings and abuse. His claws had been cut all the way down leaving nothing to for eye to see, not de-clawed but just cut off at the very end (he has his claws now). He was terrified of anyone touching his paws, obviously. You can easily spot him if you visit the Temple, he spread his paws widely still when walking, I assume because he must have been in serious pain after and now just walk like this. Anyway Isara is back with his brothers and sisters working the tourists every day.
    Annika

  18. Ana says:

    Excellent job writing this article! Very perceptive and full of info. What they’re doing there is absolutely horrible. It’s not fair to the tigers, and it’s not fair to the tourists for making them think that the tigers are well cared for and happy. I am outraged about what they are doing. Tiger Temple should be shut down as soon as possible!

  19. Kaz says:

    Excellent article. I am going to Bangkok in November and was thinking of visiting the Tiger temple. After reading this article I will now not go and visit.

  20. Tom says:

    Very interesting and depressing article. I have seen this temple featured on at least one travel show on Australian TV without any inkling of a dark side. Glad I read this article before I might have inadvertently gone there and supported the farm.

    I urge all readers to express their concern to:

    Mr Jatuporn Buruspat
    Director-General
    Department of National Parks,
    Wildlife & Plant Conservation
    61 Phaholyothin Road
    Bangkok 10900
    THAILAND

    And perhaps, as another commenter suggests, send a copy of the article to every travel agent you know.

  21. Karen says:

    I was very saddened and shocked by this article, as i had never previously heard any criticism of the Tiger Temple and presumed it was a good place. I had been planning to visit it, but will definitely not go now.

    The original concept of providing homes for some rescued tigers seemed to be a good one, and its very sad that it didn’t work out. I must admit i was confused why they supposedly have so many tigers, and had not been able to work it out from reading their website. I think its highly irresponsible and careless that they are just letting them breed, I can’t understand why anyone would think that was ok or good for tiger conservation!!

    I don’t think shutting the place down is necessary/the right solution, as this would also harm the economy of the local community. However i think it should be completely overhauled and brought back to its original purpose. People obviously originally had good intentions, and surely many volunteers also do, so it should be in the interests of the Buddhists to make it a good place again. Tiger breeding should be stopped immediately, and the tiger population should be brought down to a small number that is easily manageable and has enough space – other tigers should be found new homes in zoos around the world. Obviously the attitude of the Thai staff also needs to be changed as do their handling practices. I find it hard to believe that people who are Buddhists, and claim to value compassion and kindness to all living beings, would act so cruelly. Clearly much of it is fear and lack of understanding, so they would have to be shown and trained to treat the animals gently. Fear is never the right way to train an animal, irrespective of its size/supposed ferocity there are always kinder more respectful methods.

    Obviously with the corruption in the Thai government it seems very unlikely that such a plan would be carried out/enforced, but hopefully with continuing international awareness a change will be brought about.

  22. Wentworth says:

    In Thailand it’s all about the money. Great reporting but the way. The way Thais treat immigrant workers in their country says it all why would they worry about a few dozen tigers.

  23. Melinda says:

    Thank you Andrew.
    This is by FAR the best article I have read yet on the topic of the disgraceful farce that is the Tiger Temple in Thailand.
    I’m pleased also to see an absence of the type of moronic comments like those that often appear after other articles online about the Temple stating what a ‘wonderful place’ it is and how they don’t believe a word of the ‘rumours’. It would seem it’s hard for even the blissfully ignorant by choice to dispute your article, and for that I am very grateful. It turns my stomach to see the ‘happy snaps’ tourists continue to take in the thousands at this place, and the sheer velocity of patronage it is afforded is sad, disheartening and frustrating. How people can be so selfish and ignorant as to continue to support this disgusting ‘business’ is something I want to figure out how to change. Research like yours is a start. Thanks again. May the world be enlightened.

  24. wilko says:

    Even a layman with the merest modicum of knowledge should be able to see that the temple is a fraud and a scam.It actually HARMS tiger conservation – no unregistered breeding can do anything but that.

  25. amazied says:

    WOW…. David you and others like you (cee4life) need to have a look in your own back yard before you start to through stones…

    Australia is still brutally carrying out crutching on sheep.
    Australia is still involved in the disgusting live animal export using the “ships of death”
    and even Australia zoo took possession of a mixed breed tiger cub. According to others like you this sort of mixed breed of tiger is no use to the tiger population and should not be aloud to breed as you create a new subspecies that will only have a negative affect on the population. and now Australia Zoo are calling their tiger enclosure the “Tiger Temple” and after my latest trip to Australia zoo their tigers are under weight with large patches of fur missing over their bodies.
    It must get lonely up there on your pedastool Australia every-thing you accuse the temple of Australia has been guilty of for the last 50 years and it is still continuing today.
    Steve Erwin is turning in his grave.

  26. wilko says:

    Amazed – a spurious argument if ever there was one.
    THe sins of one country in no way mitigate the sins of another

  27. Jean Pall says:

    Thank you for saving us from a very upsetting experience. I was about to book a trip to see the lovely
    tigers while we are visiting Thailand. I hope Avaaz can help to stop the suffering. I could never go there now I know whats going on and I thank you once again for telling us the real story.

  28. diane bergeron says:

    I saw a picture of a monk with a tiger in Lisa Kristine’s book “ONE BREATH”. I felt such a spiritual connection to the photo. I was even starting to make plans to go to Thailand. And then I read ANDREW MARSHAL’S article on the abuse of the tigers. I want to know what we can do to save these beautiful animals. I intend to contact cnn and see if they will run a story about the tigers

  29. Deeral says:

    Sadly 2 years on the place continues to operate with apparent impunity.
    It doesn’t need to be closed, but taken over and sorted out.

    Publicise, publicise, publicise!

    Tell your friends about the place…..and ASK tour operators why they are still making money by offering tours f the place…

    ASK, ASK, ASK!

  30. Jess says:

    Can you beat this, Nat-Geo moment award-2012, India, has shortlisted one picture showing a monk holding a rod behind the tiger’s canines to make a public display of their canines. Many have liked it and left comments like “wow!”
    The tattoo covered monk doesn’t really appear to be being gentle with the tiger.
    I’ve left a link to this article under the picture to enlighten the ignoramuses.

  31. Pierre-Yves says:

    Sounds like government corruption is in place and keeping it open.
    “We report to government,”, “The government knows everything,” Somchai says.
    “700,000 baht in donations to Thai police and soldiers” ??? Huh? What for?

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  33. caroline says:

    I feel sickened at this report as i went to the tiger temple approx 5 months ago. Ive always been sceptical of any animals kept in quantity for the love of the animal! To think that they are so docile and sleepy because they are mistreated is so so sad of such a magnificant animal i feel so guilty for going to the temple! thinking it might of been doing some good? I did notice that it says there are over 100 tigers there of which we only saw a handful? so do they chop and change them around? the ones that might behave better? but where are the rest??? i did hear or read that they are kept in dungeons??? also there was a bear there in a cage the water he had in his so called pool was so green and looked thick with muck he was pacing the whole time i was there! So these monks are not peaceful people of the world as we are led to believe they are the ones doing the damage! Do you have a facebook page this needs to be much more people aware as the only way to find this article is to put in something like mistreated tigers etc, good on you for writing this and if there is anything i can do to help please let me know. I will never visit one of these temples again and will do my upmost to encorouge other people to do the same! if only we could take all these animals away from this world and stick them on a planet of their own to live how they should without humans to interfere

  34. natascha says:

    Thank you so much ! ill share with my Brazilian friends, if you have more docs about tigers and elephants in thailand, please send to me

  35. Cheryl says:

    I am an Australian, nothing to be proud of as I no longer even reside there and my husband and I are in Bangkok right now and was so excited to go to the Tiger Temple tomorrow when my gut feeling told me to research it further. I so wanted to see these magnificent cats up close and personal, it was a life’s dream but now can see it would have been a nightmare.
    I had been on tripadvisor, youtube and many other sites and tried to keep a balanced view, however this site made me sit up and take notice, I was horrified, saddened, appalled and heart broken all at the same time and now will never go there with a clear or moral conscience.
    My husband I also lost a dear friendship over this as our friend so angered by our decision wrote a terrible email denegrading us and has not spoken to us again…now I understand why, it may be too late to mend that bridge, but by not going to this hell hole, not contributing our money to this continued mistreatment, my conscience is now clear and will shout this finding from every rooftop and to anyone even thinking of going there. Thank you for this article.

  36. Charlotte says:

    Well written article and very well researched Andrew. I visited today and I got a very eery feeling about this place.

  37. Tabbi says:

    Start a petition to close this temple and rescue the tigers somehow….please.

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