At the beginning of February the Wat Pa Luang Ta Bua, better known as Tiger Temple, in Kanchanaburi province was raided by Thai officials investigating cases of mistreatment and animal trafficking.

Today there is an article on Yahoo Travel about the results of the raid along with the headline… Wildlife officials: Famed Thai temple doesn’t abuse tigers

The problem with this being that although the Temple may have been cleared of mistreatment by the Thai authorities (whose track record on animal welfare isn’t anything to shout about), international animal rights charities continue to condemn it.

There’s a long list of comments following the Yahoo article with people showing their support for the temple. Why shouldn’t tigers interact with humans if they are not being maltreated? The Tigers are certainly not drugged! The Temple is contributing to conservation of the tigers…

But all of these comments seem to miss the point. Wild animals should not be used as photographic props or entertainment for humans. No matter how well they are treated, they should be in the wild, or at least part of a conservation programme to reintroduce them to the wild. At Tiger Temple (and similar places across Thailand) these beautiful creatures become part of a cycle of breeding purely to entertain.

Care for the Wild have expressed considerable concern over the daily routine of Tigers in Temples. Tourist numbers are high and almost everybody who visits wants a hands-on picture with many others taking part in activities like a ‘Cub Exercise Program’ and ‘Breakfast with the Monks’. Tigers have no opportunity to opt out or walk away, instead they have to endure long days of forced interaction.

Not only is this stressful for the Tigers (in particular the cubs, who would never be separated from their mothers at such a young age in the wild) but this type of interaction is potentially very dangerous for the tourists involved.

The nearest medical facility from Tiger Temple is around 40km away and all visitors are made to sign a disclaimer voiding the temple of any responsibility should someone get hurt. Signing such disclaimers can sometimes void travel insurance policies so people could be left in a painful and expensive situation if something was to go wrong.

Con Conservation?

Tiger Temple markets itself as a sanctuary with a conservation agenda yet non of their tigers have ever been released back into the wild. According to Care for the Wild there is no evidence to suggest that Tiger Temple has significantly contributed to tiger conservation in any other way – financially or non-financially.

Tigers are being bred at Tiger Temple but it is not part of any internationally recognised breeding programme and because the tigers here have been raised in captivity with human interaction, they will never be able to be released into the wild. The breeding at Tiger Temples serves no other purpose other than to generate profit. 

Based on low estimates of just 100 tourists per day, along with 12 people for ‘Breakfast with the Monks’ our calculations show the Tiger Temple has an income of over $1.6 million (USD) per year. After deducting their stated feeding costs, this leaves a surplus of over $1 million per year to cover any additional costs.

How much of this surplus is spent on tiger conservation? –  Care for the Wild 2013

The chance to get up close to a tiger may seem like a once in a lifetime opportunity you can’t turn down but if you really care about animals then surely you don’t want to see them in this way. Instead visit one of the genuine animal sanctuaries in Thailand like the WFFT, where you can learn about real conservation efforts to save some of the worlds most amazing species.