The Tiger Temple

The Tiger Temple, also known as Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua Yannasampann, in West Thailand, has been a utopia for monks and tigers since 1999.

The temple is based on Theraveda buddhism and watched over by Abbott Pra-Acharn Phusit. His forested temple was once similar to any other temple in Thailand, until an orphaned cub was brought to his door. This first cub died due to injuries very soon after its’ arrival but locals began to bring more and more orphaned tiger cubs, and other wildlife, to the temple.

It was then known as The Tiger Temple.

The amount of tigers increased. One day a concerned local would bring an orphaned cub, another day one of the domestic tigers would give birth to twins. Over time, the tiger population at the temple rose to over 16 tigers, and many, many more by 2011. The Abbott began to worry, not only because of the sheer amount of tigers and lack of money to support them, but because many of the former monk residents had moved on to other temples.

Abbott Pra-Acharn Phusit found himself taking care of these animals with very few resources and helping hands after that. He continued to live amongst the tigers and nurse them to health, not simply for a love of animals or tigers specifically, but because, in the practice of Buddhism, all animals and people are reborn as tigers.

This man, in the picture above, is Abbot Pra-Acharn Phusit

He began to seek help. He knew he couldn’t manage this many tigers on his own. This led him to make the painful decision to not only have monks care for the tigers, which had been his initial dream. Hired hands were brought to the temple to assist in the upbringing of these powerful cats. News of this temple of tigers spread like wild fire and now thousands and thousands of visitors come to visit weekly, if not almost daily.

But recently there is much controversy about this temple, specifically from worried wildlife conservationists.

Many visitors and conservationists worry that the tigers are drugged, physically abused, and generally not taken care of. One scientist said he did not agree with the temple’s practices, solely because the tigers would no longer be able to fend for themselves in the wild. This is a valid argument, but so is the fact that these cubs, orphaned by poachers, would have not survived at all if left in the jungle, or would have otherwise lived a horrible life after being traded on the black market.

To be fair, I did see a video on youtube, click here to view it, that showed a very disturbing scene that took place on temple grounds. It seems, to put it simply, that the Tiger Temple has turned very commercial and tourist friendly. But this was all an effort made by Abbott to support this endangered species and keep them from going  extinct, as well as saving our ancestors that were “reborn” as these tigers.

I believe that the temple should have more experienced, natural, kind (monk-like) tiger handlers. This must not be that hard to find if the temple is receiving so much popularity. The problem is, as always, finding the money and funds to do so.

Although you can find pictures and videos showing mistreatment of these tigers I still see Abbott in the background, walking alongside a tiger with no leash and his hand placed lightly on the tiger’s shoulder. The tigers that are around him never seem to be stressed, mad or violent.

As for the question of whether these tigers are being drugged: I do not know.

I have read many articles and seen videos dating back to around 2006, and it is not hard to find something posted by a worried tourist or visitor who believes that these tigers are “too calm not to be drugged”.

There are a few things to take into account. Firstly, this is in Thailand. The weather is hot, humid and could easily become unbearable on a normal day (I’ve never visited, but simply assuming from what I’ve heard and researched). I believe that even tigers in the wild would lounge around lazily during the day. Secondly, these tigers have been raised amongst humans since day 1, and are fully handled – usually fed by hand even as adults.

Naturally, being tigers, there is a huge risk of a tourist aggravating a tiger and getting hurt, so some of the tigers will be tied up upon visit, but not all of them. Tigers are also rotated to be given a break from tourists. Visitors can pet them all over, and even little children will sit right next to one under the hot, Thai sun.

One blogger, Barbara Weibel, posted on her blog Hole In The Donut in March of 2011, after visiting the Tiger Temple. Her post was shared on the Lonely Planet website. Here’s an excerpt:

… Each day a number of the resident tigers are led to an on-site quarry, where they lie in the shade as tourists are led around the enclosure and allowed to pet them. … Each lay beneath a beach umbrella for shade in the mid-afternoon heat, secured by a single length of chain attached to neck collars. Some dozed while others rolled playfully on their backs, sending billows of ochre dust into the air. Every so often one of the tigers would raise its head and open its mouth, a sign for a volunteer to squirt a stream water from a squeeze bottle into its mouth. … Although one animal rights organization has charged that “animal welfare problems at the Tiger Temple are severe and include poor accommodation, lack of appropriate environments and veterinary care, and physical abuse of the tigers to make them compliant for visiting tourists,” I saw absolutely no evidence of this. The tigers seemed content to allow human interaction and I didn’t feel they were drugged; they moved lazily but no differently than tigers I have seen during the heat of the day in zoos all over the world and they are rotated so that no one cat is forced to engage with humans on a daily basis. Outside of the quarry, in a new enclosure, staff members waded in the moat with other tigers, playing tug-o-war with a toy attached to a broom handle. When the game was over the employees turned their backs and walked away, stopping every few feet to turn around and chastise one of the cats that followed, ordering it to sit. Astonishingly, the tiger complied.”

The Tiger Temple website, click here to view, stated the situation in a similar manner:

… Considering the hot climate, tigers opt for a primarily nocturnal lifestyle, they move around as well as hunt at night after dark to take advantage of the lower ground and air temperatures, the natural way to beat the heat waves. The best experience with the tigers is the early morning breakfast with the monks when the tigers are still very active and as the day goes on, the temple can get very hot and the tigers get very relaxed. …”

After reading this, my opinion (having never been to the temple) is that there are some volunteers (note that many workers and handlers are volunteers) who do not handle these tigers well at all. Hopefully Abbott recognizes this and cuts them off from the tigers. In general, I would hope that it is otherwise.

What are your thoughts? Have you ever heard of this temple?

The thought of it is inspiring, at the very least, and has given people a chance to interact with this endangered species up close and personal – perhaps opening their eyes to the hardships these animals face.



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