Activists criticize government deal with Thailand’s ‘Tiger Temple’ monks
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Activists criticize government deal with Thailand’s ‘Tiger Temple’ monks

A compromise has been reached at ‘Tiger Temple’ in Kanchanaburi Thailand, but it could hardly be called a consensus. Despite rampant criticism from animal rights activists (who say the tourist site is a hotbed for wildlife misdeeds and violations) and government strict pledges to extract the tigers (made by Department of National Parks, Wildlife (DNP), and Plant Conservation chief Nipon Chotibarn on April 16) those officials were lenient when they visited the temple at the weekend. According to The Nation, the DNP officers instead “contented themselves with registering the animals and scanning their microchips,” before downplaying the chief’s earlier promises to relocate the tigers.  “We just wanted to do the right thing according to the law,” Adisorn Nuchdamrong, the department’s deputy director-general, was quoted as saying.

Nuchdamrong then outlined the restrictions that will be placed on the Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua temple’s monks, including mandatory registration of all 146 of their tigers as state assets, along with a requirement that each of those animals wear a microchip and a provision that bans commercial exploitation of the creatures. That last point may prove to be especially contentious. A recent AFP article quoted a DNP statement that said: “The temple should not gain commercial benefit from the tigers without permission from department such as selling tourists admission fees or charging them money to take photos,” adding that such a ban on entry fees “raises doubts over whether the sanctuary can continue as a tourist attraction” because of the ensuing loss of revenue.

(READ MORE: Thailand’s Tiger Temple — a conservation project or a tourist trap?)

However, wildlife activists say that exploitation is already occurring, and that more immediate action must be taken. On April 26 the ‘The Truth About Thailand’s Tiger Temple’ Facebook group posted: “corruption reared it’s ugly head and the decision to remove all the tigers from TT was overturned! We cannot allow the current ‘staff’ to remain there!” That post also linked to a petition pushing for the tigers’ removal. At the time of writing it had gathered 1,619 signatures.

Edwin Wiek, spokesperson for another activist NGO called Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand, had a more specific point of contention with the Tiger Temple during an interview with the AFP. He raised concerns about the DNP’s head count of the tigers during its visit to the tourist site last week, adding that total is three short of the allotted number of animals during the last count conducted there. He added: “We still don’t know yet where the missing tigers are or what happened to them.”

Many other conservationists have yet to comment on the situation’s latest developments but that activist community has, in general, been very vocal about its opposition to the temple. Earlier this month Nil Zacharias, co-founder of eco-NGO One Green Planet, attributed the current “wild animal selfie trend” to the Kanchanaburi site in an interview with the Chiang Rai Times, before calling the Tiger Temple a “terrible tourist attraction,” and pointing to his organisation’s findings about its “cruel truth”.

Specifically, Zacharias is referring to One Green Planet’s report that called the temple a “front for animal rights abuses”. And it is not the only NGO that has been a longtime critic of the Tiger Temple. One of the tourist sites’s most tireless detractors is Care For the Wild. In 2008 that organisation released an in-depth case study about the temple, in which it accused the abbots of illegally breeding the tigers, offering them subpar diets and putting visitors lives at risk. The report recommended that: “Thailand’s Department of National Parks confiscates the Temple’s illegally held tigers and transfers them to a sanctuary facility, where the animals can be accommodated and cared for appropriately. CWI has identified a suitable facility in Thailand and is offering its full support for this operation.”