Thailand is one of the most popular travel destinations in the world with people coming from all over the world to see temples, beaches, culture and animals. The animal entertainment industry within Thailand itself is often pushed by tourism marketers as once in a lifetime opportunities to encounter tame wild creatures without risk. What is commonly not known is the long suffering that these tigers are often put through for this once in a lifetime opportunity. Now the World Animal Protection are taking a stand to protect tiger species from cruel conditions and illegal trafficking. Ethically the mistreatment of these beautiful species is so wrong, so it is important to understand the facts of what truly happens in the animal entertainment industry.
The Tiger Temple was a “conservation” initiative (that’s a lie but more on this later) owned and run by a group of monks to protect tiger cubs that had been abandoned due to poaching. The temple soon earned approximately $4.9million a year from ticket sales alone kept around 137 tigers that were exercised, fed and well rested to the public eye (Emery, 2017). The temple was a major tourist destination with many posing for what has been dubbed the “Tiger Selfie”.
In 2016 the World Animal Protection agency stated that approximately 830 tigers were being kept in captivity in the Thailand entertainment industry. The growing number of tigers proves worrying to conservationists as it suggests “speed-breeding” where tigers are often bred for no conservation purposes and mothers and cubs are often separated two weeks after birth which can be severely distressing for both tigers. From there many cubs are then hand raised by the monks at the temple or allowed to be handled by tourists for the perfect photo opportunity. Other tiger cubs are often sold illicitly for body parts that may be used for food, fashion or medicine.
After much rallying by conservationists the Tiger Temple was finally shut down in 2015 due to the realisation of the horrible conditions that tigers were kept in (Pemberton, 2015). The temple that had been open since 1994 was heavily sedating tigers, hitting them with sticks, keeping them in concrete cages and breeding not for conservation purposes. Amidst a raid on the temple in 2015 40 tiger cubs were found dead in a freezer on the property (Emery, 2017) further proving the accounts of animal abuse.
Many tourists are often unaware of the conditions that these tigers are being kept in so continue to fuel into the abusive billion-dollar industry. It is now important to raise awareness about the mistreatment of the tigers in Thailand in order to prevent these instances occurring again. For years tourists have always been encouraged to “take only photographs, leave only footprints” but now even these interactions are considered unethical and pose threat to these species (The Conversation, 2014).
Many travel agents and other tourism organisations such as TripAdvisor have taken a stance by not selling animal entertainment services through their brands. Now there needs to be more of a push on tourists to stop fuelling the industry.
The Independent (2017) make a number of suggestions of ways to prevent entering an institution that treat their animals cruelly. Firstly, they suggest doing your research as negative reviews are a giveaway that something may not be right like trainers hitting or abusing animals. You can also find ethical safaris with companies who tour through national parks that are often part of actual conservation initiatives.
It is extremely important to remember that humans are not animals, they should not be made to perform or be exploited for our own selfish reasons. I am a strong believer in conservation and the breeding programs that prevent species going out of extinction however I can see and draw the line of breeding programs that are simply used to personally profit from animal suffering.
Education is becoming extremely important, we cannot let animal entertainment continue to exploit innocent animals that simply deserve to live their lives. If we do not try to protect these creatures then one day they will be gone and all that will be left will be the stories of their past and how we failed to let them live.