Recently, I wrote about the tragedy of Harambe, the gorilla shot in the Cincinnati zoo. In situations like these, when someone has to make a tough call, there’s always a spattering of outrage. The armchair warriors will come out in droves, to explain how the issue was mishandled, and how the zoo should have reacted. Even though there was a beautiful animal that died as a result, I find it hard to point a finger at someone.
Well, sometimes you can actually point a finger at a person or two.
The Tiger Temple, or Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua Yanasampanno if that rolls off the tongue easier, was originally founded in 1994 as a wildlife preserve in Thailand. Tourists are charged 600 Baht (about $22 Canadian) to get in and walk among the tigers. What was once a preserve has become perverse, as the temple was recently shut down to due allegations of tiger smuggling. Twenty-two men, three of whom are Buddhist monks, have been charged with trafficking animals. They were caught fleeing with a truck full of tiger’s skin. Forty dead cubs were found frozen in the temple, some having been frozen five years ago. Another thirty cubs were found preserved in jars of formaldehyde. Also found in the temple were skins and teeth and other various parts.
This wasn’t a conservation effort to take care of tigers, it was a cruel petting zoo for tourists for wanted to snap a picture with a tiger. The tigers were chained so close to the ground they could hardly stand. Some of them had been both declawed and defanged. In even more extreme cases, some of the tigers had their tendons removed, so they couldn’t swipe at people or even sprint. Tiger cubs were constantly overfed, because tourists paid good money to get a picture nursing a cub. This temple didn’t have money to create a proper environment for the tigers, but it certainly had enough money to perform elective surgery on the animals. Not to mention that the tigers were allowed to breed, which with a gene pool this size caused a number of tigers to be blind and deaf.
When did this animal sanctuary turn into a horror show? An organization called the Care for the Wild international has been investing the temple for over a decade. They submitted a report the temple was smuggling tigers in and out a tiger farm in Laos. Based on this report, a coalition of 39 conservation groups, including the Humane Society International, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, World Animal Protection, and the World Wide Fund for Nature, sent a letter to the director general of National parks in Thailand, urging the director to close the facility. The letter stated that the temple lacked the facilities, the training, the skills, or even the desire to look after the animals properly.
Reports and investigations continued, and the pressure has been ramped up in May 2016. Now police and wildlife official are working to remove all of the living tigers from the temple. The tiger torture camp is shutting down.
Why do places like these continue to operate, where animals live in degrading conditions and tortured? Two things; Tiger Selfies and Tiger Balm.
Only one animal here is living life to the fullest
In this modern day of one-upmanship on social media, people clamour to ‘Carpe Diem’, seizing more of the day than their virtual neighbors. And what could be a more life affirming, spiritual change than feeding a baby tiger, or getting a picture with a massive tiger head on your lap? Look at some of the reviews on Trip Advisor regarding the temple. Here’s some highlights.
- “You can hold and feed baby tigers!”
- “I realized my dream”
- “Great place to see tigers up close but sad to see them chained”
- “Best vacation activity I’ve EVER had!”
Just like Harambe the gorilla, this is another example of people not really understanding animals. With Harambe, people were forgetting that this was a wild, massive, unpredictable, powerful animal that could have easily harmed the child. With the case of the tiger temple, people think a wild, massive, unpredictable, powerful animal could easily be tamed and chained without the use of sedatives and elective surgery.
The other issue is with the cultural problem in much of Eastern Asia, where bizarre concoctions of endangered animals seem to rejuvenate and treat ailments, like sore throats, thyroid problems, and masculinity issues. Education seems to be changing that, but there still lies a pile of old people who think that ground up rhinoceros horn will cure erectile disfunction.
I’m glad this place has been shut down, and you should too. But as long as there’s money to be made, there will always be someone willing to make a buck, no matter the cost.
The Illustrious Mr. Charlton
p.s. Yes, I understand that Tiger Balm contains no tigers. I was trying to be clever.
p.s.s. Factory meat isn’t a whole lot better in regards to animal treatment. Buy from the farmer’s market. Grass-fed, happy cows taste better.
p.s.s.s. All photos taken from Twitter accounts.