Although I’ve been working on a number of new blog posts for several weeks, I feel compelled to write this blog specifically in response to an article published this week by the Guardian Newspaper to coincide with International Tiger Day.
I fully champion the cause of international tiger day and other wildlife campaigns that highlight the need to protect endangered species, however, I feel conflicted after reading this article as I personally visited this specific Tiger Temple while visiting Thailand earlier this year, as such, I can only go on what I witnessed first hand.
This article fails to mention the good work that the temple does for the animals, such as rescuing abused animals. In particular, we heard of two stories that have stayed with me. Firstly, that of a full grown adult male tiger that was rescued from a tiny one bedroom apartment in Bangkok, and that of two lions that were rescued from a drugs lord who used the animals for protection.
At the same time, I cannot ignore the compelling arguments put forwards that suggest the animals are drugged and have their teeth and claws removed. I found the tigers to be in good condition and saw a lot of activity among the younger tigers, but it is true, some of the bigger tigers did seem quite ‘sleepy’ on reflection.
In response to the incidents of people getting scratched, there are specific instructions on how to behave around the tigers, and there are picture signs demonstrating this posted everywhere, highlighting what to do and what not to do. I find the point about tigers being drugged and at the same time hurting members of the public to be conflicting – surely they cannot do both at the same time?
While I appreciate that this article is trying to highlight the negative aspects of an establishment like Tiger Temple, and whilst I understand the value behind the campaign, this article fails to mention the rehabilitation program that this temple has created in order to reintroduce tigers back into Thailand in areas that are safe for them, along with the educational programs that they run in conjunction with local schools to educate young people about poaching and why it is bad for the tiger population.
I think that it is unfair to compare this particular establishment to that of a man carrying a Monkey or Slow Loris around with them. I saw this on multiple occasions whilst in Asia and refused any kind of photography of this kind as it was clear to see how distressed the animals were, especially as they were kept on tiny chain leads that appeared to be far too tight for them.
I also feel it is important to mention that whilst I and a group of friends chose to go to tiger temple, the majority of our group chose to go to a local zoo. One member of our group was so distressed by what they saw, they walked away in tears as they could clearly see a heavily sedated tiger perched for tourist photos.
As somebody with a genuine interest in animal welfare and the protection of them, I am somewhat conflicted. Yes, I am guilty of taking ‘tiger selfies’, and whilst I understand the ‘no photos, please’ campaign, I question whether there is an alternative solution such as international organisations and charities working together with these establishments to ensure certain levels of care are met or even the closure of such places ONCE a suitable alternative is found.
I question what will happen to all of these tigers if this campaign is successful and no-one visits anymore as this organisation is funded through donations and visitors alone. What will happen to these tigers if the money dries up? Is this solution really any better for tigers? I question whether this campaign has been thought out, as although it may succeed in highlighting an international animal welfare issue, it does little in the way of providing a valid solution that actually benefits the tigers, or other animals implicated in this campaign.
It’s difficult to know if they are really drugged, like domestic cats, tigers like to sleep – up to 18/20 hours a day! Add to that the heat of the afternoon, and you can see why tigers may look very sleepy. I can’t make any more than that passing comment as I haven’t been to any of tiger places in Thailand.
There is currently a buzz going around Phuket as someone wants to open a dophinarium housing questionably sourced dolphins in a single, small enclosure. People are signing petitions and having meetings… but they seem perfectly happy with the newly opened (in 2013) Tiger Kingdom. And the baby elephants we drive past every day chained to a post on the roadside for photo opportunities. It seems strange that the dolphins are getting so much support, I don’t really understand why!
You raise a really interesting point, I wonder if tiger temples/kingdoms are do engrained, perhaps specifically in this culture, that they are seen as acceptable, whereas sea animals that I guess are viewed as free and not particularly culturally relevant should remain in their home environment. The dolphin issue is increasingly on the rise, (I found another article on the Guardian about a travel blogging conference that is concerned with Dolphin and sea life tours), but so is responsible animal tourism or the ‘right’ kind of tourism. What constitutes the ‘right’ kind of animal tourism? From the comments left on the Guardian website after the tiger temple article, most ‘conservation’ projects abroad do not really aid the conservation of species. Yet again I’m somewhat torn as I have participated in animal conservation projects that I believe are making a difference.
I think the cultural relevance plays its part – tigers and elephants are animals of Thailand and so they use them in their tourism. They claim that without these places (Elephant camps and Tiger temples/kingdoms) that the animals would be dead – the natural habitat of Tigers is disappearing and there isn’t any work for the elephants anymore since logging controls came in. So in a way they believe that they are working towards animal conservation. I guess the issue is that our opinions of animal cruelty differ vastly. Animals are much more left to be animals here. Much less people have family pets for example. So many animals are left to live on the streets. It’s a different outlook on things. Doesn’t make it right though!
I agree with what you’re saying, especially with regard to elephants as well. I took part in some elephant conservation work in Thailand, and I can honestly say I believe it is helping the elephants although I guess conservation projects abroad are a kind of animal tourism themselves, even though I wouldn’t class it as, for instance, the same kind of tourism as the 4 hour elephant jungle treks that they offer in Chiang Mai. I think that’s the difference between tiger temples/elephant camps compared with legitimate projects that do make a difference, but then I guess you could argue, how do you even know if a project you help at is actually making a difference? I think the point you raise about perspective is important too. The way I saw some dogs treated while I was in Asia would not be acceptable in the UK for example, but that’s another matter entirely.