Monday, February 15, 2010


This article appeared in 'The Nation' in Thailand on the 9th February. I waited to see it appear in their webpage in the archives or wherever. It has not appeared. I thought I better post it here in case it gets lost.


The "Tiger Temple" in Kanchanaburi has sued 2 top wildlife activists and a reporter for defamation over claims of animal torture, illegal possession of wildlife and alleged trade in tigers to other countries without a permit.

Staff at the "Tiger Temple", formally known as Wat Pa Luang Ta Bua Yannasampanno Forest Monastery, say that charges are groundless.

Local conservationists Edwin Wiek and Dr Surapon Duangkhae were handed by police to Kanchanaburi court last week, but the journalist refused to turn up.

The three are seing sued after a news report in the Thai Post in April last year in which claims were made about animal torture, illegal possession of wildlife at the temple and illicit trade of a protected species. The activists and animal welfare experts quoted in the article were critical of the temple.

The "Tiger Temple", located north of Kanchanaburi town, is a well-known attraction that welcomes hundreds of foreign tourists a day to see and be photographed with tigers.

The fee to enter is Bt500 per person, and taking "special photos" with the tigers costs Bt1000 extra. People can also pay Bt4500 for a morning in which they feed tiger cubs and watch an exercise session.

The temple is a huge money spinner, but questions have been raised about the safety of it's operations and legality of monks running a virtual private zoo. It is believed to have got a zoo permit - for a seperate location - only late last year.

Yearly revenue was estimated as Bt30 million in 2006, and is likely to be much more now.

Wiek, a Dutchman who runs a highly regarded animal rescue centre in Phetchaburi, is no fan.

"At least a dozen tigers are being dragged from their small enclosures every afternoon down to a sunbaked hot valley to pose with tourists. These tigers are extremely lethargic and allegations have been made that they are drugged," he said.

"When the tigers are not obedient before, during or after the photo session they are pulled by their tails and/or hit with wooden sticks on their backs and heads. We just want to stop this torture and suffering to stop".

Wiek and Surapon, who is with the Environmental Network of Thailand, have been freed on bail.

They and others say pulling tigers by the tail causes serious damage to their spine and is known to cause paralysis if done on a regular basis.

According to a report by Care for the Wild International (CWI), a non-governmental group based in the UK: "CWI investigators uncovered disturbing evidence of serious conservation and animal welfare concerns, including illegal tiger trafficking, systematic physical abuse of the tigers held at the temple, and high risk interactions between tigers and tourists".

The manager at the Tiger Temple, Athithat Seemanee, has a different view: "Brutality to the tigers here is not true. A lot of the pictures that show torture of the animals are old, when the Tiger Temple did not have any income. Now they are fed well with boiled chicken and canned dog food.

"As for pulling the tail and punching tigers on the head, these are ways to make a tiger obey. It is similar to training dogs or elephants. Some physical pain is needed to discipline them for pictures."

Athithat said there were 50 tigers at the temple and many were born there.

DNA tests have reportedly proven that the tigers are hybrids and of little conservation value.

"We plan to release these tigers into a tiger island we are building. It should be ready soon. There they will have more space and less interaction with people. We have 70 people taking care of the tigers at the temple and proper medical care is given to them", Athithat said.

The tiger island was to have been completed in 2008 and Athithat was unwilling to give a specific date for it's opening, which has been postponed many times."


  1. this is terrible, i have been reading reports that claim that the whole setup has been manufactured for tourists without regard for the animals, and have decided to skip it on my visit to Thailand, But is there any way we can bring this to the notice of the WWF or any other world animal welfare organisation?

  2. Hello Whirlwind - Sadly all the organisations who should know about this place are aware. Their hands are tied. Thai authorities ignore any protest.