Let’s put an end to the litany of grisly discoveries and complaints against the tourist attraction
The discovery of 40 dead tiger cubs at Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua, the so-called “Tiger Temple” in Kanchanaburi, holds the potential for outrage if an acceptable explanation is not quickly forthcoming.
Long a popular attraction for foreign tourists keen to see an animal once fairly common in our jungle areas, the temple has also been the target of animal-rights activists, who have pleaded with police and government authorities to shut the premises down.
Activists and former temple workers have alleged that the tigers are beaten, poorly fed, caged inappropriately and illegally bred and traded. Australian conservation group Cee4life, in a report released in January, accused the temple of trafficking in wildlife through Laos, in violation of Thai law and the international Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.
Temple officials invariably deny all such charges. But a court order that their 137 tigers be relocated to more appropriate facilities brought 2,000 parks officials, police and military officers armed with tranquilliser guns to the wat this week. There they found the carcasses of 40 cubs stored in a freezer and hundreds of amulets made from tiger organs. Yesterday a monk was intercepted trying to leave the premises with skins and fangs.
Though no criminal charges have been filed thus far, the authorities have transferred 84 tigers to nearby breeding centres and more are likely to be taken away.
Without drawing premature conclusions ahead of a full probe, it’s plain to all that the temple abbot and staff must now reveal every aspect of the business conducted there. They must explain their failure to heed repeated warnings on standard operating procedures for an animal facility of this kind as well as their dealings with foreign businesses that might be involved in animal trafficking.
The Tiger Temple has been astute at publicity, particularly with its brochure photos of visitors posing affectionately with adult and juvenile tigers. To people in the West, pictures of monks in orange robes astride wild animals doubtless convey a doubly alluring image of the exotic Far East. One of dozens of big-cat tourist attractions across the country, it bills itself as a “tiger sanctuary”. Its critics see it as a torture zone.
Tourists “donate” nearly Bt10,000 each for the chance to nuzzle, feed and bathe a tiger. Few seem curious about why these wild animals are so docile, but animal-welfare agencies insist the cats are sedated. There have been occasions when visitors have been attacked. On these occasions the temple is invariably told to stop putting its guests in close proximity to the tigers. The practice continues nevertheless, perhaps because no one in power wants to risk the clergy’s wrath.
Thailand has made great strides in repairing its reputation as a country where animals are routinely abused. There is significantly less illegal wildlife trafficking now, and the trade in elephant ivory has been largely curtailed. We see television ads, posters at airports and billboards around transportation hubs designed to stir the conscience and build respect for nature.
Just the same we have pockets of profit-driven entrepreneurs ready to meet the insatiable demand for tiger and bear body parts used in aphrodisiacs and for other nonsensical purposes. It is not yet clear whether or not the Tiger Temple had any role in this terrible business, and in fact its Facebook page carries the claim that the dead cubs were frozen rather than cremated to maintain proof that it is not involved in any illicit trade.
Why the 40 cubs died remains to be seen, of course. Also awaited is the government’s explanation as to why the temple was granted a zoo permit just last month, despite repeated warnings and countless allegations about its operations.
That question was still unresolved as the Wildlife Department descended on the property.