ONE of Thailand’s most popular and most controversial tourist attractions, the so-called ‘Tiger Temple’ in Kanchanaburi province, has threatened to sue National Geographic amid allegations of tiger abuse and trafficking.
Located just a few hours from Bangkok, the temple, formally known as Wat Pa Luangta Bua Yannasampanno, houses over 100 tigers. Tourists often visit to feed, play, and take pictures with the cats – resulting in an estimated annual revenue of US$3 million for the temple, according to National Geographic.
The National Geographic article, published on Thursday, also claimed that the temple traded tigers with a commercial breeder in Laos.
The piece stated that: “Cross-border commerce in live tigers—or their skins, bones, or other parts—violates both Thai law and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the body that regulates wildlife trade under a treaty signed by 182 nations, including Thailand.”
Reaction from the temple was swift. It said Monday that it intends to sue National Geographic for libel over the article. A lawyer representing the temple, Saiyood Pengboonchoo, said that the tiger swap that took place between the temple and a Laotian farm was not a venture for profit.
“It’s defamation. It’s a distortion of facts,” he told Khaosod English. “We did swap them once. We asked for an exchange with Laos. But no money was involved. I insist that we didn’t buy or sell any tigers.”
He added, “We did not break any laws. We did not violate CITES.”
That explanation certainly does not convince most animal conservationists and rights activists. On Twitter, news of the lawsuit was met with defiance and eye-rolling.
— Edwin Wiek (@EdwinWiek) January 26, 2016
Allegations of mistreatment of animals are nothing new to the Tiger Temple.
Over two weeks ago, a visitor named Pranay Dalmia posted an eye-opening video on the Tiger Temple’s official Facebook page that allegedly shows a temple staff member punching the face of one of the tigers. The video has since gone viral, attaining nearly 7 million views and making headlines around the world.
I visited Tiger Temple Thailand a few days ago. It was really depressing to see the tigers being treated poorly. I saw some of the tigers being dragged by the tail and one of the tigers being punched in the face. I happened to catch a video recording of a tiger being punched in the face. See the attached video at around 20 seconds. Share this and spread awareness!
Posted by Pranay Dalmia on Friday, January 8, 2016
Predictably, the Tiger Temple’s Facebook page experienced an avalanche of angry comments. Then, last week, the administrators responded with a post directed at Dalmia, assuring him that the “situation is being dealt with” and that the “incident is not a frequent occurrence”.