I will fully admit that one of the big things that put Thailand on my map of places to visit was because of the Tiger Temple. When I first heard about it and saw pictures from a customer at my workplace I was in absolute awe! You mean you can walk beside, pet and sit with REAL tigers???? I was sold!! I wanted to be a part of that!! I had heard things like; there is a Temple in Thailand where monks live and care for the tigers; the tigers are fed cooked meat so they don’t look at humans (raw meat) as being a food source; the tigers are docile and are pretty much exactly like house cats, except much larger. A Tiger Temple was even featured as one of the locations where they went in The Amazing Race during the first season. I was highly intrigued!!
Then I started doing research… There isn’t just ONE tiger Temple in Thailand. They are a dime a dozen (here in Kanchanaburi you can barely walk 10 feet without seeing a sign for a tiger tour). Tour groups are taken daily to the various Temples so that each tourist can have a “genuine” experience with the tigers… I should have figured. After really looking into it, I can’t help but wonder whether these “Temples” aren’t so much about the benefit of the animals as they are simply another way to bring in the tourist, essentially exploiting the tigers along the way. I’m not saying the tigers are mistreated. I doubt they would be since it is such a popular tourist attraction. What I am saying is tigers are by nature wild. As much as I love the fantasy of being able to chill along side a tiger, I would much rather have a genuine encounter (much to the fear of my family I’m sure) in the wild (where tigers really belong) with one than to stand in line, wait my turn and get my picture taken with a “tame” tiger.
I’m not sure how these Temples began. Perhaps the first did originally start as a place where tigers that would otherwise die in the wild were taken in and cared for. Then perhaps from there it evolved into the circus it is today? I’m not sure. But I now know I don’t want to be a part of that.
For all the animal encounters I wish I was able to have, I certainly won’t if it’s at the potential exploitation of the animal. That is why I didn’t take an elephant ride in Ayutthaya. I’m always very wary of how the animals are treated before paying to be a part of an activity with them, though I did buy a basket of food to feed to them (since the food was going directly to them). There were several elephants off giving rides to tourists down the street and back and three remained at the main location without any harnesses on, but tied by their foot with a chain to the hitching post beside them.
It was hard to see chains around their legs, but here I will play a bit of the devil’s advocate. As a horse back rider, we tie horses up with halters and a lead lines to keep them in one place. We don’t tie a leg of course nor do we use chains in tying a horse, but I had to wonder if since elephants are soooo much larger, if chains are just the equivalent to a cotton or nylon tether to a horse? Elephants are highly intelligent however so I also wondered why they would need ties at all to stay within an area? And again, since I’m not educated enough on the proper treatment of elephants and whether these ones were properly cared for, I didn’t agree to a ride, just a direct feeding to them.
In Ayutthaya they also have a place called the Elephant Kraal and the Ayutthaya Elephant Village, right next to the floating market. I did think to go check them out, but thankfully read up on some reviews first… This review was also confirmed by a couple staying in the hostel who had personally gone to see it. First the floating market is nothing but a tourist trap. Second, they said that the elephants look stressed and unhappy, that they made the baby elephants do tricks that were unnatural for an elephant to do and third they also had TIGERS that they kept in small cement cages with their legs tied to the edge of the cage. The couple said the tether was so tight that it was cutting into their skin. Absolutely unacceptable!!!
Soapbox time… Though it may not make any difference (because most people are too much into their own needs to care) I urge people NOT to support any cruelty to animals and subsequently do NOT support places or people who treat their animals in foul ways. The best way to get them to stop is simply to not support them. Unfortunately many of these kinds of places open up because tourism drives them. Since they have animals native to their lands that many other places in the world consider exotic, many places make a buisiness out of exploiting the animals so tourists can get up close and personal with them so they can show off to friends and family back home on what they got to do with a wild animal. If we don’t support these businesses, they can’t survive. The drive will die off and those who exploit animals for profit will no longer make money.
As I write the above rant, the only concern that comes to mind of course is: What will happen to the animals themselves? I don’t have all the answers. If I could wave a magic wand I would have a place of my own (or enough money to support a place) that would provide safe and natural habitats to abused, mistreated and exploited animals. Somewhere where they could simply be. Sounds like a zoo, I know, but what I envision would be just large expanses of land where only the injured/unable to live in the wild would be in enclosures so they could be properly cared for. The rest would roam free. Until then, all I know is step 1 is to not support places like the above mentioned or any other. And if anyone out there has better suggestions, I’m open to hearing them 🙂
I do hope there are genuinely good places here that really care for their animals, as I am interested in volunteering. Whether that means shoveling shit, or any other nitty gritty “gross” job necessary to benefit the animals. So far I haven’t found any yet but hold hope that they are here somewhere…
p.s… all tiger images in this post were taken from Google Images, keyword “tiger temple images”