A unique place in Thailand, which attracted thousands of tourists every year, found itself in the epicentre of an ugly scandal several years ago. The famous “tiger temple”, where everyone could bottle-feed the tiger cubs, walk with them on a leash, and even swim with the predators, began to accuse animal trafficking and the fact that they were kept in terrible conditions. Interestingly, you can find very contradictory eyewitness accounts on the Internet today who saw the tiger monastery with their own eyes.
The history of the Buddhist monastery Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua Yanasampanno, located in the west of Thailand, became widely known in the early 2000s. In August 1994, a wealthy family donated their land plot to one of Thailand’s most revered Buddhist preachers to establish a new monastery. This monastery immediately became a shelter not only for people but also for wild animals. The first pet was a slaughtered wild chicken. Then peacocks settled in the park near the monastery; the next was a wounded wild boar, who recovered and returned to the people with his family.
In February 1999, villagers brought a wounded tiger cub left without parents to the monks. This first pet died, but soon several more orphaned small predators appeared in the monastery. Some were left alone “thanks” to the poachers, others were kept at home, but then they decided to get rid of the overgrown animal. The monastery received everyone. Without special skills, the monks raised and raised tiger cubs. At the beginning of January 2011, there were 85 tigers in the sanctuary; about half were still babies.
They fed the big cats with dry cat food and boiled chicken – as explained on the monastery’s website, the brothers tried to protect their pets from getting to know the taste of blood. At first glance, it did work. In the photographs circulated on the network, the tigers peacefully coexisted with each other and their caregivers, allowed tourists to take bold pictures and willingly communicated with people.
During its heyday, the temple was visited by 300 to 600 tourists a day – this even though it is almost three hours away from Bangkok and had a relatively high cost of the entrance ticket. Dozens of volunteers from different countries worked at the monastery to help the ministers take care of the animals. This business brought in $ 5.7 million a year.
Gradually, the monastery began to turn into a full-fledged zoo. In addition to a large population of tigers, more than 300 individuals of other species lived there: peacocks, cows, Asian buffaloes, deer, pigs, goats, bears, lions, monkeys and camels. Such a “living corner”, operating without licenses, gradually began to attract the attention of the authorities, especially since the reviews of tourists after visiting were often ambiguous.
The inspections carried out have confirmed that the animals are indeed not always kept in the conditions shown to the public. Over the years, the organization “Care for the Wild International” has collected information that the monastery has problems with the maintenance of predators and there is no proper veterinary service, there is not always enough food, and as far as communication with tourists is concerned, the animals to be more docile. They are often under the influence of drugs. The accusation of clandestine exchanges with the owner of a tiger farm in Laos was especially heavy.
Following a report providing evidence of this, a coalition of 39 conservation organizations approached the Director-General of Thailand’s National Parks. The conclusion drawn in this letter was disappointing:
“The monastery does not have the means, skills, contacts with accredited zoos, or even the desire to deal with its tigers appropriately. On the contrary, they are motivated to show tigers to tourists and illegally trade tigers for profit.”
In May 2016, an operation began to remove tigers from the monastery. At that time, their number was almost 150 individuals. To carry out such large-scale work, more than 2 thousand people were involved, including veterinarians, employees of the wildlife protection department, local police and the army. The animals were euthanized with sedative darts and loaded onto vehicles.
All tigers were sent to zoos and a state reserve. The worst find were several dozen dead tiger cubs, which were found frozen in the veterinary office. As the representatives of the monastery explained, all the animals died of natural causes.
Unfortunately, the fate of the vast cats taken out of the monastery was not very happy. Over the years, more than half of them have died. Among the reasons, experts call the poor condition of animals, diseases and even heredity – as a result of closely related crosses, many of them received a whole bunch of diseases. These data confirm the accusations against the monastery, but there are other opinions as well. For example, some animal rights activists who helped take care of the tigers in the temple believe that the reason for the mass death was poorly carried out evacuation and the unpreparedness of zoos to receive so many large cats. Many, according to them, were healthy at the time of export but could not get used to the new diet.
In the spring of 2017, information appeared that a new nursery for tigers would be opened on the site of the scandalous monastery, now on an official basis. They decided to keep the name of the “promoted brand”, as it is known worldwide. However, later on, the opening of the renovated “Tiger Monastery” was stalled.
Thailand is famous for its temples, many of which, like the Tiger Monastery, has a unique history that attracts tourists.