Roar for Tigers

Thai government threatens to shut down Tiger Temple featured on ‘Born to be Wild’

Thai government threatens to shut down Tiger Temple featured on ‘Born to be Wild’

Apr 18, 2015

Thailand-based english weekly Chiang Rai Times reported Friday that Thailand’s Department of National Parks (DNP) Director- General, Nipon Chotiban, has threatened to remove more than a hundred tigers from the Tiger Temple by the end of April.

The temple is a tourist spot in Kanchanaburi, Thailand that offers tiger and tourist interaction programs including playing, bathing, feeding, and taking photos with tigers.

Abuse and maltreatment of tigers

Just last December, GMA Public Affairs’ environmental and wildlife program “Born to be Wild” visited and investigated the Tiger Temple after wildlife conservation groups accused the staff of the temple of maltreating tigers. “We keep trying [to make] people understand that animals belong in the wild and that’s where they should belong. Not in places [where] we can just pick them up and have a photograph [with them] when we want to,” said Care for the Wild International Campaign Manager Chris Pitt, a UK-based conservation NGO. The group said they have conducted an undercover investigation from 2005 to 2008 into the conduct of temple staff towards the tigers. According to their findings, Tiger Temple housed the tigers in cramped cages with no enrichment, and that they were dragged into appealing photographic positions by pulling their tails or punching and beating the animals. Temple officials denied this and according to a report from Environment News Service, even sued three other Thai conservationists in 2010 who also made abuse allegations.

Where is paradise?

The temple started as a rescue centre for illegally traded tigers. From one tiger, the temple now houses more than a hundred. According to the temple’s former veterinarian Dr. Somchai Visasmongkolcha, they breed two to three tiger cubs per year to keep the tourists coming and to sustain the facility. Care of the Wild has long been criticizing the temple for allegedly not having any real conservation motive for breeding. Dr. Visasmongkolcha, in an interview with “Born to be Wild,” admitted that the temple indeed has no release program, nor do they make any effort to make the tigers fit for release.  “Where is paradise? Thailand only has 20 to 25 percent of green area. You talk about (the tigers going) back to nature, but where?” Dr. Nielsen Donato went through the temple’s tiger and tourist interaction program to see how the tigers were being treated. “I have mixed views about the Tiger Temple,” Dr. Donato recalls. “I wouldn’t want to think that the tigers are being exploited to attract tourists, but without the tourists, how would the temple sustain the maintenance of the tigers?” “In the wild, tigers have been losing their habitat to human encroachment and development, and I’m sure finding a suitable release site will be a big challenge should the temple decide to have a release program. Just the same, there are a lot of options for them to make their operations more meaningful for conservation and I hope that they focused on these too alongside making profit to sustain their existing tigers,” he added.

Illegal trade?

Conservation groups also accused the temple of illegally selling tigers for the pet and tiger parts trade. Julianne Chisholm, foreign manager of the temple, denied this during the show’s filming. “All of the tigers that were born here will stay here, [there is] no trading of tigers.”

According to Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand, the DNP threatened to remove all the tigers in the temple’s care after they refused entry to government officials who wanted to inspect their facility last April 1. The DNP received reports from several wildlife protection and animal welfare NGOs that dozens of hornbills, jackals, and bears were illegally kept in the temple. There were also allegations that three tigers from the temple have been missing. According to the Chiang Rai Times report, the tigers will become common property after the seizure, which the state will have to feed and properly house. The report added that the state is now looking for ways to lower their projected expenses for this move and is now considering foster parent programs that would allow others to foster a tiger. Efforts are being made to get the side of Tiger Temple officials, but they have not responded at this time. — Annalyn Ardona/BMS
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