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Tiger Temple, or Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua, is a Theravada Buddhist temple in western Thailand that was founded in 1994 as a forest temple and sanctuary for wild animals, among them several tigers, the majority of which are Indochinese tigers. The tiger temple is located in the Saiyok district of Thailand's Kanchanaburi province, not far from the border with Burma, some 38 km (24 mi) northwest of Kanchanaburi along the 323 highway. The temple was cleared of allegations of animal mistreatment in a 2015 investigation conducted by wildlife officials and a raid by Thai soldiers. Charges were pressed for unlicensed possession of 38 protected birds found on the temple grounds.
In 1999 the temple received the first tiger cub, one that had been found by villagers; it died soon after. Later, several tiger cubs were given to the temple. As of July 2014, the total number of tigers living at the temple has risen to 135.
The original eight tigers brought to the temple were rescues, and thus far DNA data is incomplete and therefore unavailable to the public, as the pedigree of the tigers is not entirely known. However, it is presumed that they are Indochinese tigers, except Mek, who is a Bengal tiger. It is possible that some may be the newly discovered Malayan tigers, as well as cross breeds or hybrids.
Issues, reports and controversy
It is claimed that the Tiger Temple's philosophy for animal conservation is flawed, and an organization called Care for the Wild International claimed that based on information collected between 2005 and 2008 the Tiger Temple is involved in clandestine exchange of tigers with the owner of a tiger farm in Laos contravening the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species and national laws of Thailand and Laos. It claimed it operates as a tiger breeding facility without having a respective license as required under the Thai Wild Animals Reservation and Protection Act of 1992.
Based on the Care for the Wild International report, a coalition of 39 conservation groups, including the Humane Society International, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, World Animal Protection, and the World Wide Fund for Nature, penned a letter to the director general of National Parks in Thailand under the name 'The International Tiger Coalition'. This letter urged the director general to take action against the Tiger Temple over its import and export of 12 tigers with Laos, its lack of connection with accredited conservation breeding programs, and to genetically test the tigers at the Tiger Temple to determine their pedigree and value to tiger conservation programs. It concludes that the temple does not have the facilities, the skills, the relationships with accredited zoos, or even the desire to manage its tigers in an appropriate fashion. Instead, it is motivated both in display of the tigers to tourists and in its illegal trading of tigers purely by profit.
In December 2006, ABC News spent three days at the temple and did not see any evidence of drugging or mistreating the animals. Both Thai and Western employees who were interviewed claimed that the animals were well treated. The abbot of the monastery stated that the eventual goal was to breed tigers for release in the wild.
In 2014, Care for the Wild International called for an end to 'tiger selfies' in a global campaign coinciding with International Tiger Day. The charity's CEO, Philip Mansbridge, was quoted as saying: "I know people will immediately think we're over-reacting or just out to spoil people's fun. But the reality is, one quick pic for you means a lifetime of suffering for that animal." The charity estimates that there are up to 60 incidents a year (of varying severity) of captive tigers mauling tourists or volunteers at a place like Tiger Temple.
On February 2, 2015, an official investigation of the temple commenced by forest officials. After initially being sent away, they returned the following day with a warrant, policemen, and soldiers, seizing protected wild birds and impounding the tigers on the premises. The head of the Wildlife Crime Suspension office stated the park did not have the proper permits for raising the birds. The tigers were impounded pending further investigation into the tigers' documentation.
Current and future projects
The ongoing project of Tiger Island is now complete, housing the 100+ tigers in large spacious enclosures, where the tigers are able to roam free in beautiful natural habitats. This is all viewable by the public from the Skywalk, a walkway that extends throughout Tiger Island providing an aerial view of the tigers, lions relaxing and enjoying the quiet life.
The next huge project for the tigers is to begin at the start of this year (2015). 3000 rai of land has been purchased with the intent of separating it in to sections of 10 rai per tiger. This will house the tigers in a semi wild state with constant monitoring but with as little human interaction as possible.
Another smaller project is to build a large extension to the current moon bear enclosure. The current enclosure is now too small to house the now six moon bears residing within the temple. The hopes are to build a beautiful bear habitat tripling the size of the current enclosure.
The ongoing project of the new Temple Maha Wihan - Maha Chedi is funded by Thais and Buddhist guest who come to the temple donating their money to building this new temple. It is being built for Lord Buddha worship, dhamma worship, monk worship and as a status symbol of gratefulness to Phra Dhammavisutthimongkhol, Luangta Maha Bua Yannasampanno.
Other animals in the Tiger Temple
The temple sanctuary is also home to several herds of deer from five species, as well as peacocks, water buffalo, cows, goats, horses, banteng, porcupines, boars, civet cats, lions, and various species of birds.
- Care for the Wild International, Retrieved 2012-07-22
- "International Tiger Coalition". Retrieved 2012-03-11.
- "Tigers at Thai Temple Drugged Up or Loved Up?". ABC News. 17 December 2008. Retrieved 20 October 2013.
- "Wildlife charity calls for an end to tiger selfies". The Guardian. 29 July 2014. Retrieved 2 February 2015.
- Piyarach Chongcharoen (February 4, 2015). "Wild birds seized from Tiger Temple". Bangkok Post. Retrieved February 4, 2015.
- "Tiger Temple raided". Thai PBS English News Service. February 4, 2015. Retrieved February 4, 2015.
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