The Tiger Temple Takedown
Sanctuary Asia launches the #TigerTempleTakedown, a campaign developed to build awareness on the neglect, abuse and illegal trade of tigers at Thailand's Tiger Temple.
Have you heard of Wat Pa Luangta Bua Yannasampanno?
You may know it by another name, but you’ve probably seen the pictures on your newsfeed. Twitter or Facebook, Snapchat or Instagram, someone in your extended social network, if not you, has uploaded a picture of themselves posing with tigers at Thailand’s Tiger Temple.
A three-hour drive from Bangkok, the Tiger Temple is a combination monastery and tourist attraction that allows visitors hands-on interactions with tigers. The enterprise generates about US$3 million a year. On making a substantial “donation”, visitors can bottle-feed adorable tiger cubs, walk full-grown tigers on leashes and, of course, take selfies with the big cats.
While the Tiger Temple projects an image of a harmonious bond between peaceful, saffron-clad monks and their tigers, beneath the surface lies a murky story of abuse, neglect and the illegal wildlife trade. For years the temple has been mired in controversy over accusations of abuse and exploitation of the tigers, but until now the conversation was restricted to animal welfare and wildlife conservation circles. In late January, writer-photographer Sharon Guynup revealed new allegations that the monastery has been speed-breeding its tigers to supply the illegal wildlife trade and fuel its own tourist enterprise. There are currently 142 tigers at the temple.
In an exclusive for National Geographic, Guynup cited evidence from a just-released report by Australian not-for-profit Cee4Life based on a nine-year investigation into the Tiger Temple. Their ‘Tiger Temple Report’ includes veterinary records indicating that four of the temple’s original tigers were wild caught, as well as a 2005 contract for a cross-border exchange of tigers with a ‘tiger farm’ in Laos. Transnational trade of an endangered species violates both the Thai Wildlife Preservation and Protection Act, and an international treaty, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), to which Thailand is a signatory.
Sybelle Foxcroft, founder of Cee4life and the driving force behind the Tiger Temple Report, was prompted to launch the investigation after doing research at the temple in 2007 for her Master’s degree. She noted the disappearance of six tigers from April to August that year. The Tiger Temple Report includes information gathered from former volunteers and staff who also witnessed tigers coming and going, including three male tigers who vanished under mysterious circumstances in December 2014.
Guynup reports that ‘Foxcroft has compiled a list that identifies 281 tigers that passed through the temple from 1999 to 2015. According to her, the difference between 281 and 147 – 134 – is too great to be accounted for by deaths alone. Tigers in captivity normally live from 16 to 22 years.’ Where, then, did 134 tigers go? Many of the reportedly disappeared were cubs, which are not microchipped and registered with the government until the age of five months, and are therefore untraceable.
If disappearing tigers and evidence of illegal, international trade with tiger farms isn’t enough, there’s the question of abuse and neglect of tigers within the temple. Some of the other evidence put forth by Cee4life includes:
1. Poor diet: The tigers subsist on boiled chicken and dog biscuits, a diet lacking in key nutrients that has caused numerous serious health issues that have gone untreated. They also have limited access to fresh water.
2. Poor living conditions: Tigers are crowded into barren, cement cages with only 20 outdoor enclosures; many tigers do not get out for days or sometimes, weeks.
3. Speed breeding, inbreeding and crossbreeding: The tiger population rose from 8 in 2000 to the current number of 147 through intensive breeding that impacts the health of female tigers. Cubs are taken from their mothers within weeks or months of so that females will breed again. In the wild, tiger cubs stay with their mothers for up to two years. The temple’s tigers have no conservation value as they are heavily inbred and are a mix of at least three subspecies: Bengal, Siberian and Indochinese.
4. Abuse: Photographs and videos of tigers being beaten with chairs and punched in the face, along with information collected from many other sources documents physical abuse of these animals.
There seems to be enough evidence to shut down the Tiger Temple, and Thailand’s Department of National Parks has purportedly been trying to confiscate the temple tigers since April 2015. Yet, the agency has not done so, removing just five tigers from the temple. Likewise, the department has not acted to jumpstart a stalled investigation into what happened to those three tigers that went missing in December 2014 – despite stated intentions to transfer the case from local Soi Yok police to the federal Royal Thai Police. In 2010, Associated Press journalist revealed that a US $24,000 “donation” was made to the local police and soldiers in 2010 by the Tiger Temple.
Despite the negative press and backlash from wildlife conservationists and animal welfare experts, the Tiger Temple is now applying for a zoo license with the caveat that they will hand over about half of the tigers to the Department of National Parks if the license is granted for a project that will house 500 tigers!
Social media undoubtedly fuelled the popularity of the temple as a tourist attraction, and thousands of tourists have unwittingly supported the abusive, unethical and illegal activities of the temple authorities. It’s time to now use the power of social media to help the tigers of Thailand’s Tiger Temple. Here’s what we want YOU to do:
1. Take down any pictures from the Tiger Temple that you may have uploaded, and then update your status on Facebook, Twitter or other social media with the hashtag #TigerTempleTakedown. Feel free to download and share any of the attached creatives, too!
2. Send an email to Thailand’s Minister of Natural Resources and Environment demanding that the Tiger Temple’s request for a zoo license be rejected – and that the investigation into the Tiger Temple be handed over to the Royal Thai Police.
You can write to:General Surasak Karnjanarat,
Minister of Natural Resources and Environment
92 Soi Phohol Yothin 7,
Phohol Yothin Road,
Sam San Nai, Phayathai,
With a copy to:
3. Write to the National Office of Buddhism requesting that the Abbot of the Tiger Temple and any other monks related to illegal activity carried out at the temple be disrobed by the authority on the basis of violating Buddhist tenets.
You can write to:
Mr. Phanom Sonsill
National Office of Buddhism
Salaya Sub-District, Phutthamonthon District,
Nakhonpathom Province 73170
With a copy to:
4. Write to Thailand's Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation asking them to investigate all allegations against the temple authorities of illegal wildlife trade, and demand that the tigers be rescued from the temple and be sent to wildlife rehabilitation facilities.
You can write to:
Deputy Director General
Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation
61 Pholyothin Road, Ladyao,
Bangkok - 10900
With a copy to:
If you’ve visited the Tiger Temple in the last 10 years, there’s a chance that the cuddly cub you petted and bottle-fed may have been illegally traded on the black market once it grew too big to cuddle… and is now dead.
Join us in the #TigerTempleTakedown and be the voice for tigers, both captive and wild.
How does tiger farming impact wild tigers?
Great question! One might think that if tigers are ‘farmed’ – bred like chickens and pigs for their parts – it might help protect wild tigers, right? Wrong. Captive-bred tigers increases demand for expensive, luxury tiger products, particularly tiger skins used in home decorating and tiger bone wine. This then encourages the poaching of wild tigers; a bullet is cheaper than feeding a tiger for a year in a commercial breeding facility. China currently houses between 5,000 to 6,000 tigers held in about 200 tiger farms, while Thailand houses at least 950 captive tigers.
Tiger Temple Report: http://cee4life.org/tiger-temple-report/