“Let me paint you a picture - A beautiful gentle female tiger, named Darika, is unable to have cubs as she is in with a male tiger far too young to mate. She has be born slightly deformed in her feet and hips which make her limp, but she is such a stunning girl, and oh so gentle.
One night, her "keeper" walks to her cage, she greets him; he puts a lead on her and walks her outside. She trusts him, and goes without a problem. She is then injected and she falls down onto a canvas unconscious. She is lifted onto the back of a truck and she is driven out of the Tiger Temple, never to be seen again. She is taken to Laos, to a Tiger farm, and there her life ends. Her body is carved up and used in the fake Chinese traditional medicines and she (her body parts) are sold into the black market. Her fur is sold. She is gone.”
Be a smart traveller
Put your hand up if you would love to cuddle a baby tiger? Irresistible isn’t it? They are one of the most gorgeous and exotic big cats and with an estimated 3200- left in the wild, the opportunity to get up close and personal with a cub would be highly desirable.
But, this is not about you and your needs and your social media profile. This is about what we are doing to our tigers by supporting the Tourism Trade. And it’s heartbreaking.
But I’m supporting an Animal Sanctuary - so it must be okay?
It can be difficult to identify a sanctuary or ‘rescue centre’ that is ethical, responsible and sustainable. Many will claim to be a place of sanctuary for rescued, abandoned and injured wildlife. It may even be endorsed by the national tourist board. If the sanctuary claims to work for the conservation of the species then there should be some guarantee that the animals will one day be released into the wild.
It is often only through reports from travellers that concerns about practices are raised, leading to investigations undertaken by animal welfare organisations.
Genuine sanctuaries will rescue, rehabilitate and release animals back to the wild where possible. Otherwise, they will provide animals with quality lifetime care. In circumstances where wild animals are kept captive for exhibition to the public, reputable sanctuaries should apply the five freedoms. The five freedoms of acceptable animal welfare standards are:
• Freedom from hunger and thirst – access to fresh water and a balanced diet representative of that in the wild
• Freedom from discomfort – a living environment that provides shelter, privacy, mental and physical stimulation
• Freedom from pain, injury and disease – provisions in place to minimise the risk of injury, illness, disease or infection
• Freedom to express normal behaviour – suitable facilities and enough space to permit natural behaviours
• Freedom from fear and distress – precautions in place to minimise any likelihood of suffering, stress or distress
Animals in captivity are known to show typical stress behaviour if they feel uncomfortable with their surroundings. This is demonstrated through pacing, rocking, swaying, bar-licking and other compulsive behaviours which may arise as a result of captive environments that compromise (or have once compromised) an animal’s welfare.
A reputable sanctuary will ensure that their animals are not made to perform for visitors. At no time should you be encouraged to have direct contact with a wild animal such as stroking, petting or forced interaction with humans. A human touching or stoking an animal is completely unnatural for the animal and can cause it severe distress, placing both the animal’s and human’s life in danger. Contact with animals can also have disease implications for both humans and animals alike.
One of the better known Tiger attractions amongst travellers is Tiger Kingdom in Phuket and Chiang Mai and the Tiger Temple (Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua) in Bangkok— and you’ve probably seen pictures of people posing next to a majestic tiger, bravely holding up a tiger’s tail and grinning proudly, or perhaps even cuddling or feeding a cub. Both the Tiger Temple and Tiger Kingdom have inadequate and appalling animal welfare standards.
As the legend goes, the owner of Thailand’s Tiger Kingdom was given a tiger cub nearly 30 years ago because its mother had been killed. The villager who found the cub gave this particular man the tiger cub because he had the land and money necessary to care for the cub. Naturally, as he acquired more animals, he needed to make more money to support them and thus the idea for Tiger Kingdom was born. The land where the initial “rescue centre” was founded is not a zoo. In 2008, Chiang Mai’s Tiger Kingdom was opened. Originally, the facility was run like a standard zoo but as time went on, visitors were allowed to interact with the tigers. Thus begun a new and inventive way to ‘make more money’ for the tigers at the facility. Hundreds of foreign tourists daily visit the tigers to see and take pictures. It is lucrative business. The entrance fee is 500 baht (US$15) per person while taking photos with the Tiger costs 1,000 baht (US$30) extra. To feed the cubs and watch them exercise, tourists have to pay 4,500 baht (US$120).
Tiger Kingdom runs a breeding program, which operates under the guise of being part of their ‘conservation’ efforts. However, hand reared tigers are not equipped to be released into the wild which raises the question as to what the funds generated by the facility are actually going towards. Hand-reared is essentially a euphemism for saying that cubs are taken from their mothers at a young age and raised by humans instead. In doing this, the tigers are then completely reliant on humans for food and care, rendering them virtually unable to fend for themselves in the wild. At around the age of two years old, the tigers are separated into a different living area, away from their younger counterparts to avoid them fighting with each other (their natural behaviour). The most money is made from everything cub related. As such, female tigers are made to repeatedly breed in quick succession; they would have a litter of cubs and when the cubs were 7 – 12 days old, the cubs were taken from their mothers and hand raised (with incorrect formula, usually dog milk formulas).
Tigers are solitary animals and do not usually leave their mother until the two year mark. So not only do these cubs have to endure being separated from their mother, they then are subjected to extreme petting from tourist and subject to multiple feedings.
The adolescent and adult tigers are kept in isolated in their cages, 24 hours a day, except when they are taken out for photos. Each ‘trainer’ at Tiger Kingdom is given a bamboo stick to control the tiger. If they behave badly they will be hit on the nose. They are retrained every morning before the tourists arrive.
The website states that the Tiger Temple was founded in 1994 as a forest monastery and sanctuary for numerous wild animals. It received the the Golden Jubilee Buddha Image soon after and its first cub in 1999 – which did not live for long. Several tiger cubs were later given to the temple, typically when the mothers had been killed by poachers.
Although the Tiger Temple may have begun as a rescue centre for tigers, it has become a breeding centre to produce and keep tigers solely for the tourists and therefore for the benefit of the Temple. Illegal international trafficking helps to maintain the Temples’ captive tiger population. There is no possibility of the Temples’ breeding program contributing to the conservation of the species in the wild. In the case of the Tiger Temple there are no pure bred Thai Indochinese Tigers inside of the Tiger Temple It is believed that they are breeding the Tigers from the ongoing wildlife trade of India's Bengal Tigers shipped via the wildlife trade route, out into Laos, where they are inbred and cross bred with the random Malayan or part Indochinese Tiger, procured from forests. On the black market, tiger parts can be worth more than the live tiger itself and if no one is tracking the animals in and out of the facility, the wildlife trade can run unchecked. Under Thai law, the exchange of tigers internationally is entirely prohibited, but after a series of investigations between 2005 and 2008 took place on the Tiger Temple, it was discovered that at least seven tigers vanished from the facility without any context, and five new tigers appeared – again –with no explanation. Evidence was later found that workers at the temple had coordinated deals with a tiger farm in Laos where older felines were traded for cubs. The cubs were then given the same names as their traded counterparts to hide the fact that tigers were being imported and exported between multiple facilities.
The Tiger 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. The fact that these tigers are raised by monks, not wildlife experts or conservationists, seems a little bit suspect. Like all wild animals, tigers require people who understanding their behaviour and nutritional needs. How do these monks (with no animal training) make these particular tigers so docile and friendly around tourists?
"If you think Tiger Temple is some kind of spiritual tiger sanctuary, it isn't. If you think they rescue abused tigers, or that the tigers will be released into the wild, they won't be. If you think that a tiger wants to live in a small bare cage, have a chain around its neck and have tourists sit on its back, I'm pretty sure it doesn't."
Care for the Wild CEO Philip Mansbridge
Tiger Temple Thailand is one of the most widely known attractions where tourists can come – and for a price- spend the day hanging out with tigers. Care for the Wild International carried out a series of undercover investigations into Tiger Temple and found that the animals there were subjected to extreme heat and left in cages barely large enough for them to move for 20-21 hours per day. The Temple runs a captive breeding program where the cubs are taken from their mothers at an early age and physically abused to teach them to be submissive to humans.
The Temple has been accused of abusing their animals and trafficking their tigers in and out of the facility many times and in April 2015 Thailand’s Department of National Parks, Director- general, Nipon Chotiban, ordered all tigers to be removed from the Tiger Temple by the end of April. However, in May, Thai authorities retracted their decision to seize all 147 tigers from the Tiger Temple. Instead, the tigers will be allowed to remain at the temple on the condition that the temple is not run as a business and the temple does not continue breeding tigers. It is unclear what caused this dramatic change of heart and the move is considered as a step backwards by wildlife activists and animal lovers who envisaged a better future for these “working” tigers. With the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plants Conservation apparent watering down its of its initial resolve to seize the tigers, it may seem that efforts to free these tigers from commercial use has been thwarted, and the fate of these tigers has been sealed by “the powers that be.”
Although we know that these animals would never stand a chance in the wild, does that mean we have the right to treat them as we please while they are in our captivity? Change may not happen overnight, but there is an undeniable growing awareness which is becoming impossible to ignore. There may still be hope for these tigers. So let’s keep talking, educating our friends and keep reminding people why they should not visit places like the Tiger Kingdom or the Tiger Temple.
Every action, every word we speak in support of animal rights can and will contribute to change.