Applause for Thailand’s controversial ‘tiger temple’

The famous “Temple of the Tigers” was finally forced to close, after nearly twenty years of controversy. Located on the outskirts of Bangkok, this popular tourist attraction allows visitors to touch and take pictures with the kittens; If you’ve seen such photos on the Facebook or Tinder accounts of your friends and acquaintances, they probably come from there.

A raid by Thai police discovered about 40 carcasses of tiger cubs stored in freezers; During this intervention, a monk who tried to escape with his skin and fangs was captured. Several individuals, who had been chipped, were missing. Police have charged a total of 22 people, including three Buddhist monks, with wildlife trafficking. Authorities are currently moving and relocating more than 100 cats to safe locations across the country; a decision was made after it was revealed that the center was engaged in an illegal and highly lucrative trade in tiger body parts – which the center’s management has officially denied .

I first visited the temple in 2008, as part of a larger project to monitor the rise of tiger breeding across China and Southeast Asia. I wanted to investigate the contribution of these captive tigers to their dwindling populations of wild species. Back then, we heard wrong and wrong about conservation. Signs along the road indicate in different languages ‚Äč‚Äčthat the temple has taken in tigers hunted by waves of poaching targeting Thailand and its last wild spaces. The money collected from tourists is to help the monks take care of their nurturers.

Several tigers are on display daily, chained in a central outdoor area, most often in the sweltering heat; therefore, they allow tourists to take selfies and get as close as possible to wildlife in captivity. The children were bottle-fed by the monks, so there were many photo opportunities. The other tigers, which were not shown, remained isolated in overcrowded and unsanitary concrete enclosures.

Investigations by NGOs show that tigers used to take selfies have been conditioned and trained with a range of techniques used in circuses, including beatings and circuses. punishment. One of the methods identified was spraying urine obtained from other males; This is a particularly brutal method, the opponent’s urine acts as a terrible repellent for these territorial animals.

It is reported that the animals on public display have been sedated and kept in chains so as not to pose a risk to tourists. The temple also denies this practice.

What are these animals really for?

Established in 1990 as an animal sanctuary, the temple has expanded and proposed to develop a tiger breeding program. But these individuals are of little conservation interest, as it is not known what subspecies they belong to and many of them will be hybrids. Therefore, it is almost impossible to introduce them into the wild. Tigers are indeed very difficult to re-wild and, even if possible, the fact that they have become habitable to humans poses serious security concerns.

So as the center’s cat population grew, so did rumors about the true nature of its activities.

Tiger organs and their derivatives have long gained value from their use in traditional Chinese medicine. Their bones can sell for up to $400 a kilogram, while a full set of skins can run into the tens of thousands. One penis is worth about 1,300.

Rumors of missing tigers at the temple persist. In April 2015, authorities carried out a raid following the revelation of a veterinarian who claimed that at least three individuals were missing. A few months earlier, National Geographic and the non-governmental organization Cee4life had said that beneath its thin veneer of sanctity, the temple was actually just a cover to conceal an illegal wildlife trade. more cunning and cunning.

Tiger turns into money cow

If the closure of the center has been widely welcomed, the “temple of the tigers” is just one example among many others, where hundreds of cats pile up in breeding dens, shelters, and shelters. of thousands of undeclared cats. The conditions in this vast web are just as barbaric, if not worse, even if the reasons given for their existence are everywhere the same, namely conservation.

Proponents of these farms argue that they provide a legitimate supply of skins, bones and jawbones, thereby reducing pressure on wild populations. But here’s a pretty simple economic argument: flood the market with goods from captive animals and poachers will find themselves unemployed…

Opponents of these farms point out that this “legitimate” trade legitimizes demand for such products and also makes people ultimately want wildlife skins for a fraction of the cost. lower fees. Demand must be stopped and established zero tolerance for this trade, as well as for any other form of illegal trade.

Animal abuse has focused most of the criticism Tiger Temple has received. But if evidence of illegal trade in animal parts was established, it would clearly go against the laws of that country in accordance with the provisions of the Convention on International Trade in Animals. Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

This closure must be the first of a long string. It is now possible to target other hubs across Asia, where tigers are transformed into a wealth of resources that can be mined for profit. These structures have no added conservation value; on the other hand, they justify a kind of tourism that is irresponsible and does not provide any experience that allows for a real appreciation of the wildlife.

Now is the time to ensure that this closure is the start of a more concerted effort to end cruelty to animals, as well as the illegal wildlife trade. Otherwise, this resounding episode would have no effect.

The original version of this article was published on The Conversation.

Also on HuffPost:

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.