Video: Tiger Temple or Tiger Business? Should I visit Tiger Temple in Thailand

 

In August 2013, I was set to volunteer at Tiger Temple, Southeast Asia’s most controversial tourist attraction, to find my own truth about wild tiger conservation. However, I left after 18 days of volunteering. In previous articles I have highlighted my thoughts after working there for 18 days.

There were several other articles I wrote about what my daily life was like volunteering at Tiger Temple, but I left prematurely. I had intended on doing an article a day, however, I lost enthusiasm for it as the project went on and I just didn’t feel right about it and the place. So I finished off with my final thoughts on Tiger Temple.

Should I visit Tiger Temple?

visiting tiger temple

Should I visit Tiger Temple?

This is a question that is highly debated in TripAdvisor, with thousands of  people chiming in with their opinion, their friend’s friend’s cousin’s grandma’s opinion, some proclamation from a person “who really knows for sure that those tigers are drugged” etc.  The truth of the matter, from my perspective anyway, I highlighted in the article – the Reality of Volunteering at Tiger Temple. Basically, it is hard to know what really goes on behind the scenes – unless you were a true insider. And I mean true, not like a Westerner who has been there for two years and thinks they know everything, I mean like the head monk. The one who looks like a cod fish.

tiger temple monk

The first thing tourists who visit Tiger Temple think of, talk about, and discuss ad nausea is “Are the tigers drugged?” Well the fact of the matter is: I don’t know and they don’t know for sure. I don’t think the cats are drugged, but the whole question is irrelevant and a distraction to the real issue. Does visiting Tiger Temple and paying for all of the activities there help conservation of tigers in the wild? No. 

The “donation” money that tourists pay first goes to building this big ass temple outside. In real conservation projects, the money goes directly to improve the lives and wellbeing of the animals in captivity and to the animals in the wild. It is NOT for profit. Paying to have a temple built is a for PROFIT enterprise. What do the tiger’s need a bigger building to be chained up to for? Yeah thought so.

Despite what other volunteers or workers delude themselves into thinking, the temple does not make this for profit point clear and the temple’s party line is all over the place with where the money goes. If you go there and ask a volunteers they will spout out some bullshit about a conservation project – but they really have no idea. They just want you to be go away with a smile on your face. Seriously, one day when I was there a girl went up to one of the lead Western staff and voiced her concern about the tigers being chained up etc. His response “We had a PhD. from Oxford come here and say these cats were in the best condition he had ever seen.” Satisfied, the girl left feeling a little less upset by here emotional response to the situation. Surprised, I asked, “Really? Did the guy end up publishing the paper on the tigers? I want to check it out.”  “Ha, no. That was just a bunch of bullshit I made up to calm her down.”

At the end of the day, people believe what they want to believe. They search out things of significance and aline what they see to fit their reality. So 1/3 of people will think the place is unholy, 1/3 will be completely indifferent, and 1/3 will love it and say it is just misunderstood and look at the happy monk feeding the tiger noodles. Hooray.

********side note on shity human nature *****

I know this is a sad reality but it is just that. I remember last year when I was in Laos and I met a woman who asked if I wanted to go on an elephant ride. I took a few minutes, not in a preachy kind of way, but just in a “Yo, this is kind of fucked kind of what they are doing kind of way”, to explain why you shouldn’t ride elephants. After my little spiel, she said “Yea, you are right. Well – I am going to go check it out and ride one anyway cause I am here.” So there you go. Human 0, Losing complete faith in humanity 1

*********back to some tiger truth********

Waiting chained to the perimeter

Waiting chained to the perimeter

And the last glaring question to leave with is: Why so  many tigers? If Tiger Temple is losing money on them, they shouldn’t let them breed like rabbits. But they do so because they make the most money from the cubs which they take from the mother a week or two after birth. Sad. And since we are on the subject of breeding like rabbits, where did the rest of he tigers go? When I was there there was like two 2-week old, three 8-week olds, and three 16-week olds…at that birth rate their should be way more tigers. Wonder where they went? (hint* they make all the cheap crap you buy at Walmart).

The problem with some many tigers in one spot, 122 when I was there, is that it gives the impression to the masses that tigers are everywhere, when in reality there are only 3,200 left in the whole world according to the WWF (WorldWildLifeFund – not wrestling). It is at a point where there will not enough genetic variance where the tigers can mate successfully and produce healthy cubs.  Shit – there is only like 250 wild tigers on the border between Myanmar (Burma) and Thailand – one of the places there should be the most wild tigers.

So in conclusion – go, don’t go, you will do what you want at the end of the day, but just realize your money is not supporting tiger conservation, those tigers that produce the money are practically working in a circus – this is a Tiger Business. Locals knows it, tour guides know it, people who sell the tours know it, and people who have worked there who are honest to themselves know it. And those babies who you are bottle feeding – yeah those ones, they get that 6 times a day until they are just spitting it out. Sounds like a dream va-cay huh?

I know you are hot lady, but damn - I don't want any more formula.

I know you are hot lady, but damn – I don’t want any more formula.

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.

16 Comments
  • Rachel
    Posted at 17:51h, 29 January

    It’s sad how the tigers are treated there, and unfortunately it’s a common reality all over the world for many different species. Some places you visit are better than expected while others are worse than you ever imagined.

    It’s nice to see that you volunteered and were able to gain a little knowledge about what goes on. Many people just spectate one way or the other with no backing. I, for one, will not be visiting the center when we travel to Thailand but I know that my not going won’t change a thing.

    Thanks for the series, was a great read.

    • Turner
      Posted at 12:41h, 30 January

      Yes. Southeast Asia has some pretty horrendous conditions for many animals. And yes, I agree about the speculation part. It is easy to arm chair an opinion on something, doing due diligence and really challenging your beliefs is a harder road, but ultimately I think more valuable to the discussion.

  • Soeren Gelder
    Posted at 05:19h, 30 January

    Hi Turner, in case you are out of ideas what job next to do, I found a great source of ideas: “101 jobs you can do anywhere in the world” – available on amazon.

    BTW: I love the tiger temple, although 1 day is fine for me to be there.

  • Turner
    Posted at 12:44h, 30 January

    I have read that. It is awful. That author completely arm chaired that book and it is a disgrace in my opinion.

    I question whether you read this piece or watched the film, otherwise I am confused as to why you are so jubilant in your proclamation of love for Tiger Temple without adding a reason.

  • cristina
    Posted at 14:18h, 30 January

    Fantastic job on the video Turner. And thanks for showing us how the Tiger Temple is.

    For what you show in it, I can say that they do NOT practice conservation. What a disgrace of a place. To turn such a creature into a tourist trap money making business. They should be proud of having the tiger but it seems to me this is not the case.

    Any place that promotes “pet the cub”, “feed the cub”, “walk the tiger/lion/leopard”, etc, is not focused in conservation. Animals are forced to breed and then the cubs are taken away so the tourists can play with them. It is obscene.

    I have some questions about the tigers. Do you know where they get their tigers? I know they are breeding them now but how they got their second and third tiger? I read a report the other day where it said that every week an Asian elephant is smuggled into Thailand from Burma to take part in tourist attractions. Did someone tell you about how their first tigers arrived?

    Great job Turner.

  • Vito
    Posted at 00:40h, 31 January

    Did you get a glimpse as to how the monks live, particularly the head monk? Is he there every day or just occasionally?

    I went to this place and also visited Tiger Kingdom outside CM. To me, it’s pretty clear that it’s a business. It’s one of the most popular attractions for tourists coming to Bangkok and it ranks high on every tourist website. If we do some basic math, compare to what is actually at the complex, how it is staffed, how much construction/materials cost in Thailand; it doesn’t add up. Plain and simple.

    I don’t necessarily care if they build a big temple, but I do wonder if those monks are taking jet planes on holidays. (remember Thai Monks that made the news for doing this?) I don’t even care if people do this as a business. What I care about is deception and lying about what you are doing.

    As for tigers being drugged, I think this stems from people not realizing what tigers naturally do: nothing. When you go see wild tigers in Africa – which I have plenty of times – they also do nothing. They find a shady spot to hide from the oppressing heat and lay there all day. They become more active at dusk/dawn and night.

    • Kiara
      Posted at 03:01h, 31 January

      I really liked your comment until I got to the part where you said “wild tigers in Africa”. Whaaat? Tigers in Africa? No way. There are no wild tigers in Africa. There just simply aren’t. There are captive tigers in Africa, that’s true but there aren’t any wild ones. You have leopards, cheetahs and lions and several smaller wild cats in Africa but no tigers.
      You are right about them sleeping most of the day but that doesn’t mean that they would let you get so close to them. It’s their territory after all and no matter what they would defend it (believe me I’ve been working with tigers for two years now – we have both always stayed on our side of the fence). So the question if they are drugged or not is still in the game (though yes, there are more problems here than that.). But somehow your “wild tigers in Africa” sentence made your whole comment a little incredible.

      • Vito
        Posted at 10:55h, 31 January

        Yes, you’re completely right, this was a late night inattentive post on my part. Additionally, many African NPs and game reserves are struggling to define what is “wild” and what is “tame” and how much interference should be allowed. (how close they should approach, building year-round water holes to draw in animals, etc.) In some parks, you barely get a glimpse from far away, in other parks some animals – like lions – come right up out of curiosity and still in other parks they’re not even curious anymore, they just lay in the shade all day. It’s about tameness.

        My point is that you can go to major NPs and see lions lounging around all day just the same. These animals lay around most of the day and become more active when the Sun and oppressive heat subside.

        On a side note, all the lions I saw in various NPs in Africa basically didn’t do anything. If the vehicle started to get to close, they would go on alert or move further away. (I’ve never been to a NP where they come up to the vehicles… only saw this on TV) Sometimes you would see the lion lazily walking somewhere off in the distance. It is at the Tiger Kingdom that I saw the tigers as active as I have ever seen. I was the last scheduled person to in for the day, near dusk. The handlers also got these long sticks with stuff on the end to play with the tigers and all the sudden, these lazy lounging creatures really become very physical and fast.

  • laneesha
    Posted at 20:57h, 01 February

    Hai Turner,are the tigers abused and not fed well. I have read comments regarding cat and dog food being fed to the tigers. Are they sick and malnourished??? Have you tried talking to the head of temple of rehoming tigers to a animal sanctuary…known as World Friends Foundation Thailand? Finally, please don’t be offended,but why write the truth in the blog when you could have just told it on television during your programme…Its on National Geography and there are millions of viewers,the truth spoken there would have a made a big difference. Please don’t be offended by my question and do answer my question when you have the time. Please and thank you.

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  • Nina
    Posted at 18:41h, 02 February

    Thank you for this Turner! I always had my suspicions and people ask me all the time, “How have you been in Thailand for three years and you haven’t seen the Tiger Temple?!?!” Next time, I’ll just show this link… They should be in the wild…period.

  • Victoria
    Posted at 23:20h, 03 February

    Hi Turner,

    Thanks for this post. It’s always difficult to know who’s telling the truth and who to believe as far as the animals are concerned. However, I like the fact that you spent some time there yourself personally and that you’re proud and confident enough to say what you think and most importantly, why.

  • traveling crone
    Posted at 08:27h, 05 February

    Thanks for posting this, I appreciate the effort you made to be fair and balanced. Before I went to Thailand last year I watched a doc on the tigers which was very much pro and barely touched on the negative aspects. I was gung ho until I started researching it and decided as an animal activist I couldn’t support such a place.

  • Kim
    Posted at 21:21h, 05 February

    Never been a fan of animal attractions. It’s not because I’m an animal rights activist, I just didn’t think it was “natural” to view them behind cages, feed them or ride them. People thought I just didn’t love animals enough. But when I found out years later how they “trained” elephants and tigers, it disgusted me to no end. My gut was right all along.

  • greg
    Posted at 07:19h, 07 February

    Nice work. It’s about what I would expect having visited the place myself. You goofed however, you should have researched chicken and Taurine – chicken does in fact contain it. These kittycats would be in rough shape if they were not getting it. They looked pretty muscular to me

  • Carmen
    Posted at 12:15h, 08 February

    I find it pretty disgusting they can’t ‘afford’ to feed the tigers properly and yet they can afford to build a giant temple. So sad.

    I don’t even like zoos so I definitely would hate this place. Exploitation indeed.