RIGHT-tourism

Tiger Temple, Thailand – the Truth Behind the Mask

Care for the Wild conducted an undercover investigation into the conduct of staff and the treatment of tigers at Thailand’s ‘Tiger Temple’, a popular tourist attraction. The investigations were carried out between 2005 –2008.

The Situation

Following the worldwide broadcast of a two-part television documentary on the Thai Tiger Temple in Kanchanaburi by Animal Planet, the tourist attraction became increasingly popular, attracting up to 900 international visitors each day.

The Tiger Temple’s success is based around claims that its tigers were rescued from poachers and live and move freely and peacefully amongst the temple’s monks, who are actively engaged in conservation and rescue work.

Care for the Wild decided to conduct an investigation into the conditions at the Tiger Temple after tourists and Tiger Temple volunteer workers contacted us with their concerns.

Our Findings

Conservation:

The Tiger Temple claims it received its first tigers legitimately as animals rescued from poachers, however, investigators obtained evidence that suggested that, rather than continuing as a rescue centre, the Temple now operates as a breeding facility and may be involved in the illegal tiger trade.

Illegal trade:

Exchange or sale of tigers across international borders is prohibited under international and Thai law. However, undercover investigators noted that at least seven tigers disappeared from the Tiger Temple during the two year investigation, and at least five individuals appeared without explanation.

Evidence was found to show that the Tiger Temple had regular dealings with a tiger farm in Laos, involving both the import and export of tigers. Typically, older animals from the Temple were exchanged for young cubs from Laos. Newly arriving tigers were given identical names to the animals which had been transferred from the Temple to Laos to obscure the fact that tigers are being moved in and out, and to create the illusion of continuity.

Breeding:

The Temple claims to breed tigers for conservation. It does not have a breeding license, but at least ten cubs were born there. With no information about the tigers’ subspecies, most if not all offspring are likely to be hybrids. For this reason alone the Temple’s tigers are unsuitable for inclusion in a recognised conservation breeding programmes. Another concern is that the release of tigers that are used to human proximity is dangerous for the tigers and the public.

Housing:

Long-term housing facilities at the temple therefore fall woefully short even of minimum requirements.

Our investigators witnessed that, far from being allowed to roam free, tigers were actually confined for 20 hours a day in small cages, measuring 31.5m2 to 37.3m2. This falls short of the published minimum of 500m2 for a pair or a mother and her cubs. Apart from their totally inadequate size, the cages contain virtually no enrichment.

Tourist Displays:

Each day between 1pm and 4pm, tigers were put on public display, so that tourists can touch and pose with the animals for photographs for a fee. During these sessions, the tigers were given no shade, and were exposed to three hours of direct sunlight in temperatures which often rose above 40°C.

The tigers are badly maltreated to make them compliant and perform for visitors, for example, it was observed that Temple staff would drag tigers into appealing photographic positions by pulling their tails or punching and beating the animals. Staff also controlled the tigers by squiring tiger urine from a bottle into the animal’s face, an act of extreme aggression in tiger behaviour.

Ill Health and Psychological Conditions:

As a result, of their poor conditions and improper handling, Temple tigers were identified to be suffering with a catalogue of behavioural and physical problems. Several of the animals were observed to demonstrate stereotypic behaviour, such as pacing and obsessive chewing of their paws. Other animals were visibly suffering from lameness and skeletal deformities. These complaints were thought to be further exacerbated by malnutrition and poor veterinary care.

Visitor Safety:

Our report also raised concerns about visitor safety. There are numerous well-documented and even fatal attacks on humans by ‘trained’ and apparently mild-mannered captive wild cats, including during photo sessions. However, Temple staff failed to prevent direct contact even when the tigers are aggressive.

At the Temple, hundreds of visitors, some of them young children, are actively encouraged to make close physical contact with tigers during daily photo sessions. Staff were unprepared and ill-equipped to deal with potential emergencies. The Tiger Temple explicitly renounces any responsibility for injuries or damage, by asking visitors to sign a disclaimer at the entrance.

What Happened?

Our report was widely distributed and well received. International tour operators offering trips to the Temple responded particularly well, and many, including large companies such as STA Travel, Frontier, and Jet Star removed the attraction form their books.

Care for the Wild met with the Temple’s Abbot to discuss the findings of our report and to try work towards a solution. Unfortunately, the Abbot was reluctant to negotiate and showed no interest in reform. Care for the Wild has not been permitted any further opportunities to talk to the Tiger Temple.

Care for the Wild funded a further investigation to scrutinise the movement of tigers at the temple, by identifying each tiger by its unique stripe pattern and comparing this with photographs taken of the supposed same animals over the past few years. The results supported our original report, suggesting that the turnover of tigers at the Tiger Temple is substantial, and proved that names are passed from one tiger to the next, presumably in an attempt to hide the high turnover of animals.

How Can You Help?

You can visit our campaign website, www.RIGHT-tourism.org, a resource dedicated to helping stop animals being exploited through tourism. You’ll find lots of information on how to make sure you avoid attractions like the tiger temple and much more.

If your travel agent provides positive information on the Tiger Temple, please explain why you would not wish to go to such an attraction and please give them information about our campaign.

Tell your family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances about the results of our report if they are visiting Thailand.

Further Reading

You can find out more about all of our previous campaigns on our Campaigns Materials page.