asia · thailand · Travel

Two Contrasting Views on the Ethics of Tigers in Captivity – my Experience at Tiger Kingdom in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Some of you may have heard of a place known as the Tiger Temple, the infamous ‘wildlife sanctuary’ in Thailand’s Kanchanaburi province.  The Tiger Temple on the surface seems like a perfect place to come face to face with one of the most majestic animals on the planet, maybe even give one a cuddle – I mean, what seems off about it? located at an ancient Thai temple, a refuge for animals who are cared for by Buddhist monks (who you would think are the most caring and kind individuals in the world).  Well as it turns out, the monks at the Tiger Temple were purchasing tigers from Laos without a license to hold wild animals (illegal by Thai law).  Before I go on I’d just like to point out that all of the photographs in this article are my own and were taken at the Tiger Kingdom in Chiang Mai, I have never been to nor would I ever go to the unethical Tiger Temple in Kanchanaburi.

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Aside from the legalities, it was all a bit more saddening when people started to see that the tigers had been chained to the floor, reports of the tigers being drugged, etc; despite all of this the monks at Tiger Temple remained untouched by the authorities, likely due to the borderline legal immunity monks seem to have in Thailand (see what’s currently going on with the attempted capture of a very influential multimillion dollar embezzling abbot at the moment), also possibly due to the power and influence held by the Tiger Temple’s abbot, Phra Wisutthisarathen.

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Eventually the Tiger Temple was raided by the army, yay…well, not so much yay.  Unfortunately the story gets increasingly morbid as during the raid wildlife officials and the authorities discovered the corpses of over forty deceased tiger cubs, the abbot’s secretary was also stopped from fleeing the Tiger Temple with jewellery containing tiger skin and fangs, it was suspected that the monks at Tiger Temple played a crucial role in the distribution of tiger body parts on the black market.  I think everyone can agree that it is amazing this place has now been shut down and the remaining tigers removed to safety and hopefully places like this will not exist in the future…but what about Tiger Kingdom in Chiang Mai?

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Hate me for it or not, but I decided to go to Tiger Kingdom in Chiang Mai, I believe they also have another two locations in Thailand.  For those of you who don’t know, the Tiger Kingdom claim to be part of the conservation effort and that all of their locations are sanctuaries for tigers.  I think visiting a place like this requires you to do some research, you may agree with visiting a place like this or you may not, we will all have reasons for our decisions.  So let’s go through the for and against arguments:

Against:

  • Tigers are wild animals and as such should remain in the wild without any human contact, training or reliance.
  • Tigers who have been raised in this environment will never be capable of survival in the wild and therefor can never be released.
  • The tigers are drugged to keep them from attacking the humans who interact with them.
  • It is immoral to profit from the imprisonment of wild animals.
  • You don’t know what goes on behind the scenes.
  • The tigers don’t have enough room to live a happy life.

For:

  • In one hundred years the tiger population has been decimated by poaching and habitat destruction, the numbers are now around 4% of what they once were, the remaining tigers must be kept safe in captivity to protect the species from extinction.
  • The tigers are not drugged, they are behaving similar to how they would in the wild except for the fact they are used to humans.
  • The tigers are kept together and allowed to socialise with one another.
  • Paying money to organisations like this help with the conservation effort, they educate people, breeding programs are funded subsequently tiger populations will be replenished saving the species from extinction.

Both the for and against schools provide very valid arguments, one myth that I think needs dispelling is that the tigers are drugged, I think people get confused when they see these big cats snuggled up with their paws in the air. The reality is that tigers in the wild will sleep for between 18-20 hours per day, they are apex predators, they expel a lot of energy in short amounts of time during the hunt, once they have eaten they will sleep and digest their protein rich meal perfect for building huge muscle mass but providing little energy – this is no different to how tigers behave in captivity, the only difference is that because they have been hand reared by humans they know not to attack them when the two meet.  I think a very good source for first hand information and the article which swayed me to make the journey to Tiger Kingdom was written by a young woman called Vicky Taylor who volunteered at the Tiger Kingdom, she reported that the tigers were well looked after, lived happy lives and they there was certainly no drugging going on, you can read this article here.

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For me I can admit there is a little selfishness, big cats and little cats are my favourite animals, they always have been – the patterns on their fur, their mesmerising eyes, the way they sneak up on prey and the way they play with one another, just watching them makes me feel all fuzzy inside, so to get the opportunity to pet them and rub their huge paws got me excited.  Despite the fact I was itching to experience it, I wouldn’t have contributed to the facility had I thought it was unethical.  One thing I will say is that I think the tigers could do with more room and maybe more vegetation in their living areas.

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It is my opinion that organisations like the Tiger Kingdom are at the front line when it comes to species conservation.  Is it the best environment for tigers to live out their lives? of course it isn’t, anyone with any level of common sense knows that, but in the early 1900’s there existed over 100,000 wild tigers and today there are less than 5,000 most of which are located in India.  The species is on the brink of extinction and without human intervention we may never see tigers in the wild again.  For me I think that if allowing humans to come into contact with these animals allows populations to be replenished while the animals are well cared for then personally I don’t have a problem with it.

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I enjoyed my day at the Tiger Kingdom, I got to stroke big tigers and small tigers, I saw them playing with one another and I watch the huge tigers dive into pools of water, chase around toys and spring themselves onto platforms.  These tigers certainly weren’t drugged, when they weren’t sleeping they had energy by the kilowatt.

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Think what you will of my experience, you may agree with me or you may call me a scumbag but as I have previously stated, people will often have conflicting opinions, if yours contradicts theirs, why not try starting a dialogue instead of lambasting their character like I see happening far too often.

Cheers

Matt

 

 

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