Today the Tiger Temple in Kanchanaburi is one of the most popular of visitor attractions for visitors to Bangkok. Just a couple of hours from the city it now forms a part of many different tours. In fact there are visitors to Thailand who come especially to see the Tiger Temple.
One could very easily believe that the Temples tradition of rearing and living with tigers is a long established humane pursuit. It isn't though. The temple has only been involved with tigers since 1999.
At this time two orphaned tigers, probably taken from a poached mother, were handed in to the temple. The monks decided to rear them. Very quickly it was noted that the tigers stimulated an interest in visitors. Visitors were also prepared to pay to touch the tigers and have their photographs taken with them. Commercial greed reared its ugly head. Far from needing money to pay for a couple of tigers, more tigers were purchased illegally. There was trade in tigers against international law. They also started breeding tigers, pulling the cubs from their mothers and rearing them on pig milk.
There was talk of course of 'conservation' which the people involved do not have an inkling of understanding about and of 'saving' the tigers which is just as laughable. The tigers were neither being conserved nor saved. It was even suggested that they would be returning tigers to the wild. This is a specialist job and could not be done with semi humanised tigers of unknown parentage and besides the tigers already in the wild were already in enough problems without having their territory encroached on by other animals.
Visitors to the tiger temple only see the tip of the iceberg and can be forgiven in believing that they are seeing something wonderful. The 'Lion lays down with the Lamb' but in this case the monk with the tiger. Visitors can be forgiven in getting a kick out of being so close to a big cat.
Lions or Tigers having been hand reared are always going to be that little bit tamer than a mother reared animal but they are not 100% safe. They are not domesticated. They are wild animals. There is an ever present risk that at some point someone is going to get killed.
Volunteers who have worked at the temple talk of the tigers being drugged, of being beaten and of being illegally traded.
The International Tiger Coalition wrote an article to the Thai Government in 2008 outlining their fears and hopes. The reply they received said the Tigers were now the property of the Government but cared for by the Monks whilst a decision was made on their future.
In August 2009 the Tiger Temple was given permission to operate as a zoo. This means that they now have virtual free rein to continue with their crimes.