tiger temple abuse

The Reality of Tiger Temple: My Final Thoughts on my Volunteering Experiment

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Okay. So anyone who follows my site on the regular (high five by the way) may be perplexed at the abrupt end of my Tiger Temple posts. Well the truth of the matter is that I intended on writing a 20-something post series on it, however, whether it be my ADD, simply losing interest, lack of audience enthusiasm at non-stop coverage, or probably most aptly – the mixed emotions I still struggle with about the place and the experience – caused me to want to move on.  I try to keep my site as much as possible light, satirical, and rambling incessantly about interesting travel jobs, work opportunities and experiences abroad. So it was hard to keep my usual tone and attitude.

At the moment I have a million and half posts to catch up on about weird and exciting jobs that I have undertaken since leaving Tiger Temple prematurely, however, to be fair, I should state my final thoughts on Tiger Temple and my experience there so that those interested in the topic can make up their own minds.  People see cute cub photos and just jump to the conclusion that all is rosy and it is experience of a lifetime, without reading the subtext and asking the bigger questions.  However, as I have previously mentioned, my initial intent of volunteering at Tiger Temple, despite its controversy, was to see what was really going on behind the scenes and to make up my own mind (and not formulate some righteous one-sided opinion denouncing others with never having been there or only spending a few hours as a tourist there).

If there is going to be a take away from this post it would be simply that: People believe what they want to believe, or as one of the head Western staff put it, “whenever you mess with animals you are going to have controversy”.

So here goes:

Tiger Temple Abuse: Is Tiger Temple drugging the tigers?

I don’t know. As a volunteer there, it would be impossible to know for sure as you only have access to so much, in a relatively brief period of time. You can never be for sure about anything. Some tourists who come, and likewise, a lot of TripAdvisor aficionados (see: people who don’t know what the fuck they are talking about) proclaim divine knowledge on the subject shout: “Yes, they are without a doubt drugged”. Similarly, many previous volunteers state, as is the party line given when working  at Tiger Temple: Tigers are nocturnal, they sleep 20 hours a day, they are well fed and it is hot outside so they are sleepy in the sun, etc. Check the post: “Does Tiger Temple Drug Tigers” for more on this.

Are the tigers abused? Or just doing the normal sleeping thing?

Are the tigers abused? Or just doing the normal sleeping thing?

Passed out big time

Passed out big time

I battled with this notion when I was there. The tigers look so incredibly passed out; lethargic, lazy-eyed, staggered walking etc. it would be an easy conclusion to reach. As the temple officially states, they only use tranquilizers when providing emergency medical attention and on annual medical check ups, however, this doesn’t eliminate the possibility for a natural sedative/plant to be given to them. It would be however, in my opinion, more dangerous on some level to drug cats daily, as it makes them less predictable. There are 122 tigers there at present, so they do tend to pick the 12 tigers that are most human and cat friendly for display.  This does not eliminate safety concerns.

My buddy and fellow volunteer got a bit to close to one of the cages whilst cleaning. The tigers' got reach.

My buddy and fellow volunteer got a bit to close to one of the cages whilst cleaning. The tigers’ got reach.

Again, I don’t, nor would anyone who isn’t a true insider or expert who can examine them, really know. I am 60/40 that the tigers are not drugged. My first experience with a big tiger’s massive head sitting in my lap, seemingly lifeless, led me to think: “Yes, definitely drugged”. But then the next day, I walked a little bit to close to a cat that was in sleep mode, as we advise tourists not to do, and it pounced to life and was very much aware. In conclusion, I could see it go either way.

Does Tiger Temple Abuse Tigers?

tiger temple abuse

Chained down for hours

This is a bit more on the opinion side. Being chained down daily for tourists on display hardly seems like a nice thing to do to an animal. Horrible in fact. However, where I throw my bullshit flag on animal rights people is when you see photos of the “exercise program”, with either tourists, or later in the day, the tiger staff using a stick with a bag on it to get the tigers to chase it and go on big jumps off rocks, decrying the temple for abusing the tigers, I have to kindly beg the differ. This is “enrichment”. The tigers are stimulated and it is exercise for them. If anything, the abuse would be in that not all of the 122 tigers get to do this on the regular.

Tigers getting exercise is a good thing as it mentally stimulates them and gets them moving.

Tigers getting exercise is a good thing as it mentally stimulates them and gets them moving.

Afternoon tiger program, sold for 500 baht - kind of a spectacle, but good for those tigers to get worked out.

Afternoon tiger program, sold for 500 baht – kind of a spectacle, but good for those tigers to get worked out.

 

Occasionally if you spend time there you will see some of the staff teasing tigers in some way (tickling their nose with a twig whilst sleeping, etc.) or pulling the tigers tail, this also is annoying, unnecessary and uncomfortable to view. But not surprising when you are staffed by an overall undereducated body of people with minimal oversight, a tedious job, and lack of leadership in management.

Seeing this is annoying.

Seeing this is annoying.

tiger temple abuse

Staff tickles a tiger as he sleeps out of boredom

 

On the facility front, Tiger Temple has expanded its facility greatly in the last 5 years and now many of the tigers have an outdoor area with water spots that change, which is also good for enrichment. These areas are better than what I have seen in most zoos. However, I do not know how much time every tiger gets out there and if it is as regular as they claim it is. Likewise, there are still some fairly small cages with 5 tigers in there, which is unacceptable.

 

This has been a new addition to the temple in recent years, allowing an outdoor area for the tigers from the cages

This has been a new addition to the temple in recent years, allowing an outdoor area for the tigers from the cages

The outdoor areas have water areas that change, so this is a positive for tigers' well being

The outdoor areas have water areas that change, so this is a positive for tigers’ well being

Sometimes there are as many as 5 or 6 tigers in a cage smaller than this one. No bueno.

Sometimes there are as many as 5 or 6 tigers in a cage smaller than this one. No bueno.

 

On the food front, the tigers are given boiled chicken and fed, a lot, probably too much, which is why some are overweight. Unfortunately, tigers need red meat to get the enzyme taurine, which they need for muscle development. The claim that it is too expensive to feed them red meat because in Thailand red meat is expensive, could carry some weight, if they weren’t building that Vatican like temple outside first from the “tourist donations”  as a priority in the hierarchy of expenditures.

No red meat is bad. If only there was more money.

No red meat is bad. If only there was more money.

On the cub front, I find it also appalling that the cubs are taken from their mother as early as 2 weeks and then offered up to the tourists. Yes, it is true that tigers are solitary animals, but they usually don’t leave their mother until the two-year mark. For me it was probably the most uncomfortable part of volunteering at Tiger Temple – hearing squealing baby tigers as tourist molest them for photos.

My most dreaded job of the day: taking tigers to and from the sala for the tourists

My most dreaded job of the day: taking tigers to and from the sala for the tourists

Too much tourist love

Too much tourist love

No more formula please

No more formula please

 

One of the other lingering questions I was left with was also why, if Tiger Temple is losing money on the operation as they claim, do they continue to let the tigers breed? At any given time, there are 3-5 cubs coming in. The response to this query was, “We don’t believe in interfering with them…let nature take its course”. Well – this is in fact in line with their belief in not-euthanizing any of the animals on the premises (Buddhist precept, “do not kill”, let things be as they are), no matter how sick, but it doesn’t seem to stick with me as you can easily just separate the tigers. Why do you need 122 tigers and continue to the let the rabbit-like breeding continue if you are losing money?

Too young for socialize in my book

Too young for socialize in my book

 

Is Tiger Temple a conservation project and helping to preserve tigers for future generations?

A model of Tiger Temple's new project displayed in the temple's Sala

A model of Tiger Temple’s new project displayed in the temple’s Sala

Now this is where I am going to throw my bullshit flag at Tiger Temple. I do not believe this is a conservation project. Conservation projects promote the well being of the animals in captivity, instill education about the animal, and fund protecting the animal in the wild.  And while they do a decent job on some of the outdoor areas for enrichment and supposedly educating the local populace about the idea of  tigers being worth more alive than dead (deterring poaching), the money garnered from any activities should all go back into the animals. As I stated previously, Tiger Temple’s first priority is building a massive, Vatican like Buddhist temple outside, then it goes back into the tigers. This didn’t sit well with me as it runs contrary to conservation, at least the Western ideal of it.  The stated goal of Tiger Temple to eventually free the tigers, re-train them to hunt like in the wild and set them loose on a reserve, in my view, is a ridiculous claim, as it hasn’t been achieved by experts with other species, much less by some monks and a staff lacking formally educated experts. I don’t recall seeing any education center or big displays talking about tiger education.

Yeah I don't see this happening. Photo credit: Wikipedia

Yeah I don’t see this happening. Photo credit: Wikipedia

 

More On General Animal Welfare

As mentioned above, there is no euthanizing of animals as it goes against the “do not kill” Buddhist precept. There are tons of different kinds of animals around Tiger Temple, in various conditions. They are fed well daily. However, there are some pretty sick animals running around the place, and while some may consider the Western approach to euthanizing a bit trigger happy, to see an animal in utter agony suffer when they are on your turf and care seems….well, you get the idea. This entire point just seems like the issue when Buddhism meets Western standards and ideals of conservation. Due to financial constraints, there is only one head vet (unless a volunteer is also one at any given time), so there is a lot to manage for such a facility. If only they had more money…wait, what about that temple construction again?

 

The animals are given the best medical treatment that the temple can offer, but with no euthanizing of really sick ones, this leads to a much bigger question.

The animals are given the best medical treatment that the temple can offer, but with no euthanizing of really sick ones, this leads to a much bigger question.

Horse being treated but looks to be in pretty bad shape.

Horse being treated but looks to be in pretty bad shape.

 

The Staff

As I stated above, people believe what they want to believe. I think most of the Western staff believe in what they are doing, are dedicated and really care about the tigers. As per the volunteer program, most of the volunteers are nice and well intentioned, but are for the most part undereducated (in their 20s) especially in regard to wildlife/biology etc. (myself included) and non-critical in thinking about what is going on and seem most interested in the idea of being around adorable tiger cubs than the bigger questions on conservation, ethics, etc.. I could see the mentality pretty quickly, it reminded me a lot of the famous Stanford Prison Experiment, where people start to take on their assigned roles. I could see this developing in my first few days there when one of the other volunteers who was explaining things about the temple to me, started using the “We” form. “At Tiger Temple, we do…”- this volunteer had only been there two weeks. As per the Thai staff, it is their country and culture and it would be morally and culturally presumptuous to impose my largely Western influenced ideology on them. I think some really love the tigers and have dedicated years to them and feel that they are their children almost. While for others it is just a job. It is rather telling that some of the local populace in the nearby town of Kanchanaburi are a bit leerily of the temple with some referring to it as the Tiger Business.

 

Is Tiger Temple Involved in the Illegal Tiger Trade?

Indonesia Sumatran Tiger

There is only so much a volunteer, or even a full time Western staff member for that matter, would actually learn about what really goes on there, and I still don’t really know. As I stated before I began this entire volunteering experiment, I am not one to just jump on the opinions of others and do not make accusations without substantiated evidence. The entire topic is well above my pay grade, and as I stated, the seriousness of it all is one of the reasons I stopped writing about it as it didn’t fit with my usual satirical, unintelligible prose. That being said, I attempted to do my due diligence in order to learn more about it as I am fascinated with helping animals and conservation. I had initially contacted and was in talks with some real experts on the matter (who I won’t name, but you could figure it out), but they got tight lipped when I got more specific about where I was and what I was interested in. I am still waiting to hear back and will update this should I get a response (don’t hold your breath). I guess people don’t want to rock the boat especially if it would impair their ability to accomplish their real mission of helping to protect tigers in the wild. I don’t know if the reports that were previously made against Tiger Temple are true or not, but if you connect the dots with the above information (ie, 3-5 cubs at any given time, tigers are no longer cute little pups at 4 months, Tiger Temple has been open for like 15 years, etc) it begs the question: Where are the rest of the tigers?

 

Why I left Tiger Temple

The volunteer program at Tiger Temple is for 30 days minimum. Some stay for months. Me, I left after 18 days. I left for many reasons:  1) I was not able to continue up with my site and other online work due to the time commitment (7am-6pm daily) 2) My values are not inline with what is going on there 3) blowback from Western staff at me for asking too many questions 4) Boredom (ie, tourist wrangling for photo opps, tiger shit clean up, whining baby tigers – day in, day out 5) I didn’t feel like I was helping tigers but merely was a cog keeping a tourist attraction machine going 6) I got tired of sleeping on mats on the floor with mosquitos, frogs, centipedes and scorpions as roommates (what a diva).

tiger temple rooms

tiger temple animals

My Final Thoughts on Tiger Temple

In summation, I do not believe that Tiger Temple is a conservation project. I felt more like I was volunteering at a Jurassic Park run by 20 year olds, where I had to coral tourists daily.  My view is that whole basis of the volunteer program in general is to act as a first line of defense to pacify and communicate with the tourists who do come and let them feel more comfortable with the whole idea. Many commentators on Tiger Temple debate the ethics of Tiger Temple, whether or not the tigers are abused as well as the overall ramifications for and reality of the temple’s conservation project, but for me, these overshadow the more important question: How do we help protect the 3,200 wild tigers left in the world?  In the next 10 years wild tigers are likely to  face extinction due to not having a diversified enough gene pool to carry on due to poaching and habitat loss – primarily from the tiger parts being high in demand in China for their believed magical, medicinal powers.  In the USA alone, there are over 10,000 captive tigers that people have as pets (Mike Tyson, crazy people that have their own zoo), so the world needs more wild tigers and to do everything in our power to protect the wild ones that we do have.

And the last question I will leave here with is the first one I proposed before I began my volunteering experiment: Why are a bunch of Buddhist monks in a forest monastery running and expanding a full scale  “wildlife sanctuary”?

****************

The above is merely my opinion, which of course is influenced by my biases and Western upbringing and limited since I am not an expert on anything. I tried my best to be as objective as possible, yet tried to be critical and as pensive in what I observed.  I guess at the end of the day this post and my opinion will not be a popular one. To the staunch animal rights and conservationists, my belief that  Tiger Temple is improving its habitat facilities and its enrichment programs are a positive thing doesn’t sing to their message. And to the folks at Tiger Temple, I am just a dipshit blogger who came in to the volunteering program with his own agenda and preconceived notions of what he believes about the happenings there and never really liked tigers (I do like them, but from a distance). I do not think anyone is the devil for wanting to take cute tiger cub photos, or to want to volunteer at Tiger Temple, I would just hope that if you choose to  do so, that you are mindful of what role you wish to take in helping to protect the few tigers we do have in the wild.

For now, until I find out exactly what role I can play in helping to protect tigers in the wild in a meaningful way, I will stick to volunteering with elephants at Save the Elephant Foundation.

Volunteering with sick and injured elephant at Elephant Nature Park in Thailand

Volunteering with sick and injured elephant at Elephant Nature Park in Thailand

 

Turner barr
turnerbarr@gmail.com

Hi, my name is Turner. I travel the world, hustle to find interesting jobs, and write about what happens when you read too many self-help books.

46 Comments
  • Fairuz Maggio
    Posted at 17:57h, 05 November

    Hi! I thought this article was great! You definitely showed a pretty great POV for both sides of the argument. As an environmentalist, I struggle with the same ideas of whether or not these types of places are actually helping the animals or “drugging” them just for tourists. There is a place in Buenos Aires, Argentina called Zoo Lujan which seems similar to the Tiger Temple. I am planning at trip to Argentina in January and I am dealing with the dilemma of whether or not to go there. I don’t really know what to believe (and all the TripAdvisor posts are either extremely positive or extremely negative) and I don’t want to give my money to a place that truly does some sort of harm to the animals. What are your opinions? Have you heard of this place?

    Thanks!

    • Turner
      Posted at 11:11h, 06 November

      I have never heard of it. But the best bet is to do your research, and make your own conclusions. In a word of corrupt politics, we vote with our money. Maybe it would be a good place to investigate and inform about. But be careful, as appearances can be deceiving, not everything is as black and white, esp. when it comes to animal welfare and realistic ways to help and save them. Sometimes out of the box approaches is the way forward. Thanks for writing in.

  • Toni
    Posted at 18:58h, 05 November

    A fantastically well-written and balanced article Turner. I completely with your decision to leave early on many levels. Having been to Africa and seen such nature up close and personal, I don’t think I would have lasted as long as you after seeing others treat the animals with such little respect and removing the cubs just so tourists could cuddle them.
    Great post!
    Toni recently posted…The emotional journey to Australia Part IMy Profile

    • Turner
      Posted at 11:13h, 06 November

      Thanks Toni. It was an emotional struggle but I wanted to give it more of a look than just simply leaving after a day. It is still very much an opinion. As I stated above, there is probably something else deeper at play, but some of the things are improving – however it doesnt address the fact that should this exist in the first place, and what can we do to help tigers in the wild. I hope we can find an answer.

  • Nadia
    Posted at 22:07h, 05 November

    Tuner..You rock! 🙂
    ..Honestly, thank you so much for that article…seems written with fairness and truth.
    I was recently re-inspired to go to the Tiger Temple after seeing your posts and earlier blogs. Many of my friends have been diss’ing my plans to go volunteer there for many of the reasons you discussed…. I seriously needed to hear what you had to say.
    I wanted to help the tigers back in 1997, when I first moved to thailand. I spent 7years in the southern islands and being buddhist myself..(among other beliefs)..know very well the harsh contrast between the buddhist way and what some ‘buddhist’ tend to do.
    I know how hard this behaviour is to watch, and realistically I don’t want to support a programme that doesn’t place the welfare of the Tigers first. Dragging screaming baby tigers away from their mums, an’t cool. …Perhaps best to support the Tigers, by not supporting this particular programme.
    ….So thank you for the harsh reminder, and the truths.

    Im going to look into the Save The Elephant Foundation you spoke of.
    Your an inspiration Turner.. ..and I am happy to be sharing the worlds many paths with you!
    ….~Life’s for living…Live the dream..! 🙂

    • Turner
      Posted at 11:19h, 06 November

      Great Nadia. I know a smaller reserve that is really hands on and needs help buildings and promotion 2 hour north of chaing mai, if you are interested. They have some monkeys and black bears. But it is a facility that is building and needs help. You can email me if interested.

      • Nadia
        Posted at 21:25h, 07 November

        Hey Turner.. . .Thanks heaps…sounds great!
        Just sent you an email. ..chat soon 🙂

  • Anna
    Posted at 23:54h, 05 November

    Awesome. Glad you decided to write a conclusion to this.

    i doff my hat to you Sir (clearly that’s how we speak in England all the time).

    Seriously though, respect.

    • Turner
      Posted at 11:20h, 06 November

      Thanks Anna. It took me longer than it should have because I lost it. But I wanted some closure as there are many threads online with this back and forth stuff.

  • Chelsea
    Posted at 01:58h, 06 November

    Really great post Turner! I applaud you for leaving before the month was up. I’ve shared this piece with a contact I have at IFAW 🙂

    • Turner
      Posted at 11:21h, 06 November

      Hey Chelsea. Thanks that is great. I would love to get some people like that involved or told from a more in-depth perception. I would be glad to speak with them. Hope Barca is treating you well.

  • Amanda
    Posted at 08:09h, 06 November

    Nicely done, Turner. It definitely does seem a bit suspect, even if they aren’t drugging the animals.

    It’s sad, but now I can’t even visit animal sanctuaries and “conservation projects” without being hyper-critical of them. Thankfully, the few that I’ve visited seemed legit!
    Amanda recently posted…RTW Diaries: A Confession, A Change of PlansMy Profile

  • Turner
    Posted at 11:23h, 06 November

    Yeah you never know what you get with voluntourism. It is important to be critical and analytical about what you see and how you are impacting the thing that you want to help.

  • Sharon
    Posted at 13:35h, 06 November

    Fascinating article. We went to one animal attraction on our last visit to Thailand and then I didn’t want to go to anymore, as the treatment of the animals disturbed me so much. The tigers at tiger temple do sound like they have it so much better than these animals, although I still couldn’t stomach what you are talking about, especially the separation of baby tigers 🙁
    Sharon recently posted…Things to do in Melbourne: Events and festivalsMy Profile

  • Turner
    Posted at 14:42h, 06 November

    Animal welfare is a slippery slope in the world, as funding and the view of it varies. Seeing tigers chained down sucks, but the facilities there are improving overall. However, there are some bigger questions about the nature of Tiger Temple. Thanks for writing in Sharon.

  • Jamie
    Posted at 16:37h, 06 November

    So awesome to finally see an article that allows us to see (as much as possible of) both sides of the coin. In terms of the ends (alleged tiger conservation) justifying the means (continuing breeding while not being able o provide proper nutrition, space, etc). I respect and applaud your decision to leave early. Hell, I applaud your ability to commit to even 18 days there while maintaining an open non-biased point of view going in. I plan on sharing this with my friends who will be beating me to Thailand so they consider both sides of what they are supporting by going.
    Jamie recently posted…Australia’s Whitsundays and South Molle Island: A photo journalMy Profile

  • Turner
    Posted at 16:43h, 06 November

    Thanks for your thoughts Jamie. Yeah, sometimes showing both sides of the coin isnt easy to do. Although, I am much more skeptical of the entire place and do not feel it is right, but wanted to give an actual account rather than make a snap judgement.

  • Lauren
    Posted at 04:42h, 07 November

    This was a really great post on a controversial topic. I really appreciate how in-depth and honest you were about the subject.

    And, of course, I enjoyed the photos of baby tigers (I can’t help it, they’re so cute!).

    • Turner
      Posted at 09:49h, 07 November

      Yes. They are cute. But it can be misleading that all is okay. Which as stated, some of it is improving, but the bigger picture is not as bright.

  • James Shannon
    Posted at 08:37h, 07 November

    Very in-depth post on a controversial place. I was never a fan of the place, and it’s great to hear an insider’s perspective (at least to the degree which you could dig)

    Are you coming back to Chiang Mai anytime soon?
    James Shannon recently posted…Photo: The Wisdom Of The BuddhaMy Profile

  • Turner
    Posted at 09:50h, 07 November

    You never know. I am always on the go but Thailand is on the near horizon.

  • Jeremy
    Posted at 10:29h, 07 November

    Been doing a lot of my own research and question-asking recently, as I have been traveling through Thailand. Just left Chiang Mai and the elephant park and learned a lot about animal tourism in this region of the world. Pretty far out stuff. Glad you have been so open about all this!
    Jeremy recently posted…20 Killer Photos of New ZealandMy Profile

  • Casey @ A Cruising Couple
    Posted at 12:51h, 07 November

    This was such an interesting article! I haven’t been to the tiger temple myself, but I have heard a lot about it recently, especially in light of the possibility that the tigers are being drugged. I really appreciated how well-rounded your post was though. I can only imagine how difficult it must have been to see those baby tigers handled by tourists each day. Kudos for sticking it out 18 days to get a fair opinion of it!

  • Dave
    Posted at 08:19h, 09 November

    Do you have any knowledge of the Tiger place in Chiang Mai? I went to that one, after trying to do my due diligence back in 2008. But like you said, people believe what they want to believe. I wanted to believe the tigers were not drugged, and still do.
    Dave recently posted…Visualtraveling – MyanmarMy Profile

    • Turner
      Posted at 13:49h, 11 November

      Yeah I went there to in order to have a better frame of reference – but I haven’t written about it yet. I think it is similar, just more clean and like a tourist friendly version. But I think similar questions can be raised, as it is for ‘profit’, not for the animals.
      Turner recently posted…How the KEEN Digital Summit cured my fear of public speakingMy Profile

  • Jim
    Posted at 07:26h, 10 November

    Interesting read. I didn’t visit Tiger Temple, but did go to Tiger Kingdom in Chiang Mai and wrote a post about it (http://tripologist.com/south-east-asia/hugs-not-drugs-at-chiang-mais-tiger-kingdom/).

    What struck me about your pictures was the tigers lying lifeless on the backs and sides. Definitely didn’t see that at Tiger Kingdom. In fact the tigers were all walking around and playing with each other when we walked in.

    Also, for what it’s worth, I have several comments on that post from people who went to both and talked about how much better Tiger Kingdom is. Granted, if Tiger Temple is improving, these comments might be from people who went a few years ago, but it’s something to consider.

    You should go to Tiger Kingdom the next time you’re in Chiang Mai and compare the two from a visitor’s perspective.

    Would be interesting to read.
    Jim recently posted…The Beauty of Mount Rainier National ParkMy Profile

    • Turner
      Posted at 13:54h, 11 November

      I have been there so that I could see a comparable. But I am just not feeling it is right and doesn’t fit with conservation efforts as who knows where the money goes. For profit and animal conservation do not mix.

  • Sybelle Foxcroft (Cee4life)
    Posted at 18:52h, 10 November

    Very good stuff Turner. Sometimes people just have to go to these places to find out themselves as they find it very hard to believe. As the undercover investigator who exposed this, I can tell you that your work over 1 month is fantastic and not much has changed in the last 6 years, except the open enclosures for some. Still the infrastructure is taking precedence over the animals well being. I also wanted to add that none of the tigers are pure bred Indochinese, they are inbred or cross bred, resulting in these dear creatures being of no value to conservation. The mentality of the volunteers inside the temple seems to never change. I almost feel that the volunteer staff choose people who have no idea about animal husbandry and care. Its a sad reality that this is occurring, but hey the money is flowing in, for the infrastructure at least.
    It was great to read your experience, excellent job!

    • Turner
      Posted at 13:52h, 11 November

      Thanks Sybelle. It was def. my most challenging job – both emotionally and intellectually to get my head wrapped around it. I wanted to try to be as objective as possible, but it is hard to get passed the idea that money isnt directly going back to the tigers as first. There are just too many questions with too many contradictory answers to ignore about it there. I hope they continue to improve the stanard of living for the tigers they do have and that tourists are more mindful – but perhaps that is being too optimistic.

      Thanks for sharing and your dedicated work on conservation.

  • Denise
    Posted at 11:14h, 11 November

    After much debate I visited Tiger Kingdom, and when I left I was still a little torn on what I thought. I, like you, couldn’t figure out the whole drugging thing. My biggest issue was with the baby cubs. They looked to be completely OVER the tourists and just wanted to be left the “blank” alone. The workers kept waking them up for me and I was like “no, no, just let them be, I’m okay…”. Poor little guys! Thanks for sharing your point of view!
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    • Turner
      Posted at 13:56h, 11 November

      Yeah, too much tourist action going on. A morning program with 4 feeding sessions is too hands on. I felt and still feel it just feel right. Thanks for writing in Denise.

  • SnarkyNomad
    Posted at 22:00h, 12 November

    Thanks for the honesty here. It’s quite an awkward situation, but details from someone who’s experienced it directly are quite useful, regardless of whether there’s some sort of verdict or not. It does seem like they’d be better off in a quality zoo, though…
    SnarkyNomad recently posted…The GRAYL: Water purification, all in a bottleMy Profile

  • Adam Burton
    Posted at 18:20h, 14 November

    Although its amazing that the world still have this tiger temple but I feel for those tigers. For me this is a sad post, 122 tigers in one place is just not normal in any sense. What makes it feel worst is that they drugged those helpless tigers. I don’t about you guys but for me I guess it’s better off that they let these tigers out in the wild.

  • P. C. Van Orton
    Posted at 06:16h, 19 November

    Your post is very timely. I humor site that I read wrote about Tiger Temple in a post lauding modern playgrounds for your inner child. The mention of Tiger Temple in the post was brief and only suggested that the conservation efforts were a positive thing. However, some of the comments on the post immediately claimed that the Temple was abusive and drugged the animals. In doing some independent research (I’d only ever heard of the Temple before and never looked into it), I found your blog post. Thanks for the interesting viewpoint. I’d read the CWI investigative report, but of course, that was conducted a number of years ago. It was helpful to read about your experience and the opinions you formed based on what you saw during your time there.

  • Raphael "Iggy" Coleman
    Posted at 18:31h, 19 November

    Hello Turner, glad to see you’ve finished working on your reviews of the Temple. Word has just got out on the volunteers’ facebook page so I’m sure you know to expect a lot of negative fire over the next few days/weeks. Here comes my little essay.
    This made for an interesting read, and I’m glad you adressed some of the positives as well as the negatives that happen there. Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not here to trash your entire article, because I agree with much of the stuff you’re writing about, good and bad. As you already know, I’m biased on the Temple side of this matter (I think you may have been referring to me when mentioning the volunteer using the “we” form after 2 weeks; if yes, I had actually been there for 3. I got pretty carried away after learning that you’d be writing about the place and was trying to get my view across to you). But this was largely because although I’d read lots of negative press about the place, I was having a good time…
    I know you are avoiding bias, but how much was your opinion and writing affected by your experience there in terms of enjoyment? It seemed to me at the time that you weren’t having a good time, and reading your next few articles I believe I’m like to find more of this. You didn’t enjoy much of the work, for ethical or other reasons (I doubt you disliked sweeping shit because of any moral dilemmas involved, for example!), you hated the living conditions, and you definitely grated with some of the staff and possibly volunteers, many of whom including myself were tense around you. How much did this experience make you dislike the Temple more or even potentially distort your moral and ethical views of the work that goes on there?
    There are several other small issues which don’t sit right with me here, which I won’t go and argue over or we’ll be here for weeks, but one I fully cannot abide is your opinion on the drugging of the tigers. I had thought you a little more investigative than this. You say you “don’t know” for sure if the cats are drugged, you’re 60/40 that they’re not, and even go so far as to say “as a volunteer, it would be impossible to know for sure”. Here, Turner, is where I throw my bullshit flag on you. Granted, you don’t have full 24hr access to the Canyon cats and you don’t prepare their food, granted, you have limited time and knowledge about drugging or using “herbs” on such animals.
    But you know EXACTLY when and where the tigers are fed, what they are fed, and if you’re a little more enterprising, you know when no one will be around to watch you. I was asking myself the same questions, so to find out, the first opportunity I had in my first week there, I proceeded to carry out a little test. I sampled the chicken, mineral tablets, and water that was regularly given to the canyon cats, and the tigers in the Tiger Island cages several times on different days for different tigers or cages. Myself. Yes, I ate it. I might not have lab equipment to analyse their molecular components but at 65kg I’m pretty sure whether or not i’ve been given a dose of tranquiliser, drug, substance or “herb” destined for a 220kg tiger. Result? Screw all. No difference between the Canyon tiger chicken and the Tiger Island chicken either, even in culinary quality. Sorry to disappoint, but I didn’t even get so much as an upset stomach, which in Thailand is some kind of miracle – guess boiling the chicken does really help prevent disease spread. So far I know there’s no substance which could work on tigers but have no effect on humans (don’t count me as an expert). But even if there was, I don’t think the Temple tech and know-how is or ever was advanced enough to find one, and get the funding to bring it in or produce it, all the while keeping it a fully sealed secret for years.
    And I’m not the only one who’s looked into it. We both saw one of the (unnamed) western staff eating tiger chicken, which that person does on a regular basis, and some other volunteers too. You’ve also met and worked with a volunteer more experienced in this than both of us – a qualified vet nurse – who did not believe they were drugged, and before you came I met another volunteer who was a zoo worker/veterinarian thought the same. Sybelle Foxcroft &CWI (I cannot separate these two as I have now learned they are basically where the CWI investigation is concerned one voice, as their insider WAS Sybelle) suspected drugging, as do many tourists and visitors, other investigators or animal rights groups, and possibly other volunteers like myself (many of whom, I must stress, will have had veterinary or other relevant experience or qualifications). Throughout all this poking and prying, not one shred of evidence has been found that the cats are drugged. Why? You know what I think: because there isn’t any, because they don’t drug the cats. Don’t you think, with so many people concerned, that such a secret would be outed?
    As for your references to “herbs” and “natural sedatives/plants”, let the bullshit flags fly. I hope I have enough to cover up that shameful mention. I really thought you’d know better than this. Yes, using tranquilisers would be too obvious, but please don’t tell me you’re hinting at Sybelle’s new theory of cooking their chicken in marijuana oil, or some other bollocks along those lines? Once again, humans try the chicken with no ill effects, and that one staff member’s response to Sybelle’s oil idea was “They’re obviously not putting in enough then, I eat the chicken every day and I’m still stressed as fuck.” Need I say more?Ok.
    What’s more repeated use of substances of any kind would put the tigers’ health at risk massively, probably making them die young. The chemicals in marijuana, for example (if you WERE wondering), takes a lot longer to pass through the systems of felines and its effects are prolonged compared to humans, whose bodies are better adapted to disposing of stuff like this. Since most of them die of kidney failure anyway, such added stress on the kidneys caused by the need to remove the toxins (or any other substances involved in drugging, for that matter) would cause faster deterioration and ultimately a greatly reduced lifespan.
    I could go on, but I really feel that you should’ve known or figured out a lot of this anyway. I hope you can reconsider at least your view on this particular aspect of the Temple… IMHO, you’d best re-write your 60/40 split as a 90/10 that they don’t drug the cats. For me, it’s more like a 97/3.
    Rant over. Thanks for your input on the Temple.

    • Sybelle Foxcroft (Cee4life)
      Posted at 14:28h, 26 November

      Hi Raphel, I thought I would set the record straight with you. I was an undercover investigator, however I was not the one who said that the tigers were drugged. I in fact write about how I never saw any drugging in my book. Additionally, I was one of a few investigators, Im just the most well known. In reference to the oil in the food, this was also found out by another recent investigator, not myself. So I hope that sorts that out. And i actually never said anything about “they’re obviously not putting enough in ……” etc etc. On another point, the Tigers are not fed raw red meat and their poor body condition and early eye/vision problems are a manifest of that. Tigers, carnivores need taurine from read meat and bones. I hope the temple continues to improve the life for these tigers.

      • Raphael "Iggy" Coleman
        Posted at 04:09h, 27 November

        Hi Sybelle, I think you misread me. I said that the investigators etc suspected drugging but never said for sure they were drugged as they found no evidence, as you say. As for the quote. I was quoting a foreign staff member. Sorry for any misunderstandings there. I intend to look into whether or not their carnivore vitamin supplements provide taurine when I return, that is also a concern of mine. It seems to me since your time investigating the body conditions of more recently-born tigers, notably bone stucture and posture, have improved. However i can’t say for sure, as evidently the tigers you witnessed are now older and there is a degree of deterioration that comes with age anyway.
        Might I enquire, if any of the following information is allowed me, as to the number, identities, qualifications, investigation procedures and durations of these other investigators? I’m aware of more CWI undercover investigators having entered as day tourists since the publication, but did any more contribute to the official paper?

  • Turner
    Posted at 22:41h, 19 November

    Hey Iggy,

    Thanks for writing in with your views. As you have articulated, I lean toward the “no, they aren’t drugged side”, but also, as I said, you can’t be for sure. You eating the chicken, or another person eating the chicken, drinking the water, doing whatever else you think constitutes some type of “90/10” bullet proof argument/test doesn’t hold water. It doesn’t prove, or disprove anything. Who knows, they could be given something at other times. There staggering could even be more just malnourishment. It would be impossible to know without professionals assessing.

    But the entire drugging issue – is a distracting point to the entire Tiger Temple ethical affair. It distracts both volunteers and tourists alike a soon as they step foot there, to the bigger, and more important questions: Is Tiger Temple a conservation project and actually helping tigers in the wild? Where does the money actually go that Tiger Temple receives from donations? And in real conservation, does money garnered go to causes other than helping with welfare of the captive animal and to help protect the animals in the wild? What about taking the cubs away from the mother at 2 weeks and letting them around tourists? Why does Tiger Temple, if it is “losing money”, continue to let the cubs breed like rabbits? They aren’t hands off enough to let the tigers roam free, yet they aren’t hands off enough to separate them and stop them for mating? Or do they need those new cubs because that is what generates money coming in? And with the birthrates at which they are, where are the rest of the tigers?

    I find it interesting that your entire page rant, your entire mission was to make me want to feel that the tigers are “90/10” not drugged instead of “60/40″…instead of addressing ANY of the other questions and the real reasons people should be leery of Tiger Temple and any of its claims.

    • Raphael "Iggy" Coleman
      Posted at 05:01h, 27 November

      Hi Turner,
      True say, I did focus on the drugging because that seemed the most outrageous of your claims to me. As to “staggering”, I’ve never seen that at the Temple so far as I can remember, and they sure as fuck ain’t malnourished – the opposite would hold more true if anything.
      The reason I didn’t discuss in detail those other issues is partly because it would take me days, but also because I’m as concerned about some of them as you are. I do believe that the upkeep of so many animals, including large carnivores, means that the tiger-tourist fees and donations and then some go into it.
      And yes, probably they do need the cubs and cub feeding and exercise programmes to generate income. And yes, I can’t agree with taking the cubs away from their mothers early. That said, the 2-week olds you saw were apparently taken earlier than usual because they didn’t trust that particular mother – the mothers sometimes kill the cubs. In my eyes, there are 3 basic arguments for their early removal: 1. their early mortality rate will decrease when hand-raised instead of left with a mother who hasn’t learned how to raise cubs from her own mother, 2. removing them early decreases the level of attachment the mother has to them and subsequently her trauma, and 3. the longer the mother raises them, the more of a danger they’re likely to be to tourists. This still doesn’t fully ring true to me, and there are still reasons I think the cubs should be left longer with their mothers.
      However, you’ve seen exactly where the rest of the tigers are, all over tiger island. If you were really that worried you could’ve gone round and done a headcount. And separating two tigers who want to fight or mate is not a good idea: no, they really aren’t that hands on and probably shouldn’t be.
      In terms of conservation, I find that apart from the stupid translated sign out front next to the highway and perhaps some stuff on the website, the Temple makes few claims to contribute to conservation – at least not face-to-face with the tourists. You and me knew the speeches and general answers to questions, and I don’t remember one of them with the word “conservation” in it. I view the Temple, in its current state of affairs, as more of an animal sanctuary than a conservation project.
      But in the long term, the Temple actually does have aspects contributing to conservation in my opinion. Number one they keep a large resident population of tigers alive and safe from poaching – in captivity, yes, but protective captivity is a necessary evil in conservation, hence zoos with reintroduction programmes.
      The most blindingly obvious contribution is the fact that the abbot has bought and is reforesting hundreds of acres of land – this is recreating habitat in the tigers’ home range, which conservation organisations around the globe often strive to make their central aim.
      Similarly, education is huge on their lists – the Temple monks fund schools and university educations for local young people, provide jobs for locals and bring money from tourism into the area, all the while discouraging poaching spreading an example of how wildlife can be worth more alive than dead. The Temple also has an agreement with local rural villages to fund them if they’re in financial difficulty during bad harvests, so long as they don’t resort to poaching to make money.
      And if the construction of Tiger Paradise is completed, in the next few years with some professional help I believe there is a good chance their semi-release programme will be successful. I sincerely hope that conservation organisations come to their senses, and realise hybrids will soon have to become viable for breeding for the sake of saving the whole species, rather than keeping subspecies pure (a tactic which failed miserably for African rhinos and saw subspecies slowly dwindle into extinction because their numbers were too low to prevent inbreeding). Then, there is even a chance the tigers can be used for “conservation-approved” breeding, and reintroduction for population raising all around southeast asia. By the time this happens, the numbers will probably be such that at a maximum-capacity reintroduction, the Temple’s tigers and descendants would double the number of tigers in the wild in Thailand. A lot of time is needed for sure, but in favourable conditions, with organisations working together rather than the Temple remaining self-sufficient and shunned because of all its bad press, it’s possible.

  • Hannah
    Posted at 00:29h, 21 November

    I’m definitely a cat person but I wonder if the cat is three times bigger. LOL. Would love to go on volunteering work too for this kind of thing
    Hannah recently posted…Kiwi Krawl Day 2: Lake Tekapo to The CatlinsMy Profile

  • kashan
    Posted at 06:39h, 28 November

    As a tourist that is about to go to Thailand, I wouldn’t have found all these things. With inside access, this information is invaluable. Thanks for the post.
    kashan recently posted…Hotels.com Best Price Match / Guarantee Review: It’s a Fail!My Profile

  • Ivana
    Posted at 02:11h, 30 November

    Thanks for an honest post, Turner
    Before coming to Thailand, we wished a lot to go to spend some time with elephants… but we just lost all illusions here, in Chiang Mai about beautiful day spent with animals…
    No, we haven’t gone to any farm yet, but seeing all those adds around the city… is sad business issue…
    anyway, I appreciate your work and thanks for sharing!!!

  • Alana - Paper Planes
    Posted at 23:24h, 04 December

    It’s impossible to get a clear picture of what’s going on unless you’re the person actually running the operation. I’ve heard negative rumors about even the most highly-praised elephant camps around Chiang Mai…how can you know what to believe??
    Alana – Paper Planes recently posted…>> 50 FREE Things to Do in Chiang Mai >>My Profile

  • The Weekend Link | Dirty Paws
    Posted at 01:14h, 07 December

    […] very interesting insider opinion of the famed Tiger Temple in Thailand. Turner from ‘Around the world in 80 jobs” left his volunteer jaunt early because the Tiger […]

  • KraSae Bridge and Bridge of River Kwai Festival » Muslim Backpacker
    Posted at 07:03h, 08 December

    […] photos brochures seem to have visitors taking photos with drugged tigers, and after reading a report of a volunteer, I didn’t feel it as something a tourist concerned with the well being of an animal should […]