What will become of the big cats of Thailand’s ‘Tiger Temple’?
EARLIER this week, Thailand’s infamous, scandal-ridden Tiger Temple had its main attractions seized by wildlife authorities amid investigations into accusations of illegal trading. This comes after years of campaigning by animal rights groups and tourists to have the temple shut down for profiting from the tigers.
At the time of publishing, 40 of the 137 tigers there have been removed by officials from the Department of National Parks (DNP), and will be housed at state-owned wildlife-breeding centers in the Ratchaburi province, where 10 rescued tigers already reside.
While the seizure of these animals has been celebrated by animal rights groups, a horrific discovery was made today – officials found at least 40 dead tiger cubs hidden away in a freezer vault in the temple premises.
The gruesome discovery, made on the third day of the wildlife department’s operation, came to light after Bangkok-based photojournalist Dario Pignatelli posted a photograph of the dead tiger cubs, along with animal viscera in containers, a dead boar, a bull’s skull, and a number of deer horns.
— Dario Pignatelli (@dariopignatelli) June 1, 2016
The Tiger Temple, located in Kanchanaburi Province, has long been accused of illegal breeding for profit and animal trafficking. If it emerges that these cubs had just been killed, it would support these accusations, reports Khaosod English.
The monks and temple administration vehemently deny any misconduct or mistreatment of the animals. Quite the opposite, in fact – earlier this week, they published a video on the temple’s Facebook page, alleging one of their tigers who had been moved to Ratchaburi at the start of the year had developed wounds due to stress.
The video showed the big cat standing in a narrow water trough inside a caged area, sporting open wounds on its cheekbones, nose, and above the eyes.
WARNING: Disturbing footageAs you know, ten of our tigers have been relocated to The DNP facility in Ratchaburi. Many people falsely believe this move is to do with animal welfare. This is far from the truth.The welfare of the tigers at the DNP facility is well below that at the Tiger Temple. This footage shows Dawie on our recent visit (please read the report we produce just after https://www.facebook.com/notes/tiger-temple-thailand/report-on-the-relocated-temple-tigers/1132320056820864). He has huge open wounds on his cheekbones, above his eyes and on his nose. These are all caused by extreme stress and possible boredom; beginnings of stereotypical behaviour. When we tried to notify the carers of this alarming problem, they were uninterested, refused to come over and even stated that this was normal for our tigers. This is not normal for our tigers whatsoever. Our tigers are used to huge open spaces and freedom, not used to being confined in small bare cages (please see video of Dawie at the Temple: https://www.facebook.com/TigerTempleTH/videos/1108634162522787/). The stress is beginning to show on all the tigers not just Dawie (they all have these same injuries). The DNP is NOT taking good care of the Tiger Temple Tigers.Please share and raise awareness of the poor conditions the Temple tigers are being forced to endure in the name of "rescue".
Posted by Tiger Temple Thailand on Saturday, May 28, 2016
When challenged by commenters on the validity of the temple’s claims, the administration hit back, often saying the public is “twisting the truth” and reiterating their belief that the tigers are better off in the temple, which is also known as Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua.
While it is true that the tigers are not kept in cages on temple grounds, hundreds of accounts of abuse have been filed against the temple’s caretakers and monks, including pulling their tails, intimidating them into submission, and even drugging them to keep the big cats docile.
So it may be a case of “out of the pan, into the fire” for these endangered felines, and it is not known exactly how the Thai wildlife authorities will handle the animals’ welfare for the foreseeable future.
However, animal rights groups in the country are backing the DNP move, understandably so as it should put a stop to the alleged trafficking the temple seems to be involved in.
The Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand (WFFT) said in a statement: “Many people are asking, why confiscate the tigers? We ask, should the temple be allowed to continue abusing the tigers? Using them as ‘cash cows’ whether that be through photos with tourists or the butchering of them to sell their body.
“The answer is no. We fully support the Thai authorities in upholding the law and saving the tigers.”
Edwin Wiek, founder of WFFT, suggests the authorities invest in a tiger sanctuary, a plausible idea given the large area of national land and parks in the country.
He told One Green Planet last year, after the DNP first announced the seizure of the tigers, that a true sanctuary would require at least 1,500 square meters of space for every three to four tigers – a total of 73,500 square meters for 147 big cats.
The Tiger Temple has been closed to the public while the rest of the animals are relocated. What kind of life lies ahead for these majestic predators, coddled by a life in captivity, remains murky.