“When humans act with cruelty we characterise them as “animals” yet the only animal that displays cruelty is humanity,” Anthony Douglas Williams.
The Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation along with the police closed down the Buddhist Monastery Wat Pa Luangta Bua Yannasampanoo, in Thailand, a popular tourist destination for petting lions, amid accusations of ill-treatment of animals and illegal wildlife trafficking activities. Around 137 tigers were removed from the premises. The operation took more than a week and involved 30 vets, 60 park department officials and 250 others. 5 people including 3 monks have been arrested while the abbot of the temple has gone missing. The raid also recovered 40 dead tiger cubs kept in a freezer and 20 others preserved in bottles as well as animal parts and organs. A truck containing 1,600 illegal items including 2 tiger pelts were also seized from the premises. Six Asian black bears and eight hornbills, both on the endangered species list, were also found.
“Two pieces of tiger skin, eight to nine pieces of tiger teeth and about 800 to 900 ‘Ta Krud,’ were found, and we are currently looking around the temple for more suspicious items,” said Tuenjai Noochdumrong, the director of Thailand’s Wildlife Conservation Office (WCO), a division of the DNP. “Ta Krud” are small containers with pieces of tiger skin, and pics of the abbot, worn as pendants around the neck by superstitious people to ward off evil. There is also obvious (though I’ll-begotten) financial gain in this kind of trafficking. Many wild animal parts are used in traditional Chinese medicine. Tiger bone sells for $168 per pound and tiger penis soup can sell for as much as $320 per bowl!
Since long, almost since 2001, wild life conservationists have suspected that the temple, which earns around 4 million dollars per year as entrance fees, and receives many millions more as donations, was just a facade for illegal wildlife activities but monks are so revered in Thailand that getting a raid order was a tough struggle for the activists. The military government in Thailand as well as influential monks made it an uphill task. Last year, monks and protestors blocked the main road leading to the temple when officials tried to remove the wild animals.
Finally, just last week, the wildlife conservation office won a court order to start seizing the animals. All the 137 tigers have been relocated to Khao San and Khao Prathep Chang Wildlife breeding centres in Ratchaburi’s Chom Bung district. Each has a 430 sq. ft cage with a large pool. The tigers and those rescued earlier, are hearteningly, showing signs of recovery from their ordeal already. Banot Malechuan director of the centre says, “They are becoming real tigers. A tiger is a tiger not a pet. They have to live their nature.”
The Country Director of World Wildlife Fund, Thailand, Yovalok Thiarachow said that these measures were long overdue.
Wildlife sanctuaries are the largest attraction for foreign tourists throughout S.E. Asia. Wat Pa Luangta is one such popular destination for tourists who visit Thailand. Located 145 kms west from Bangkok in the Kanchanburi District, it projects the image of a spiritual sanctuary where tigers and humans live in idyllic and peaceful co-existence. The legend is that villagers rescued a few injured tiger cubs and brought them to the temple where they were treated and taken care of. The kindness of the monks supposedly tamed the tigers to such an extent that people could safely interact with them. Soon, the tiger population in the temple grew and people began to flock the temple to witness this so-called taming of wild animals.
It makes for the perfect holiday picture, sitting near or lying down next to a tiger, or feeding a tiger cub with a milk bottle. Visitors pay $17 entrance ticket costs to experience the excitement of being physically close to these beautiful creatures, to pet them and take pictures with them. For an extra fee one can even bathe a tiger. However, visitors, are often horrified to note that the animals have been drugged and that they are beaten with a stick, punched and kicked by the monks to get them in the perfect ‘pose’ for a picture. Tigers cubs are fed again and again, for picture taking by visitors, till they start throwing up. Older tigers are chained close to the ground in small cages. It is said that their teeth and claws are removed and the tendons of muscles are sliced making them incapable of being rehabilitated in their natural environment later. They are so physically and psychologically tormented that they often exhibit disturbing behaviours like restless pacing and even self mutilation. Is it any wonder that monks and even visitors are sometimes attacked by these ‘tame’ tigers?
However, the fine for this cruelty and the illegal trafficking of animal parts is a paltry sum of 40,000 baht and the maximum penalty is a 4 year jail term.
PETA calls it a “hell for animals” and urges tourists to keep away from these animal farms.