Home Sustainable Travel Thailand’s Tiger Temple and other Zoos

Thailand’s Tiger Temple and other Zoos

by Alice Bayly

When most people think of Thailand they conjure images of sweeping sandy beaches, vibrant cities and rich culture. And so they should, this country is absolutely fantastic for all of these. However, one area all too often on the typical tourist trail is that of Thailand’s Tiger Temples or zoos – and I just cannot fathom why!


What are Tiger Temples in Thailand?

Understandably, when visiting a new country one may want to learn more about the indigenous, exotic wildlife found there. I am certainly one of the first to suggest this; being as over-the-top animal-mad as I am. In Thailand, the easiest way for one to do this is to visit a local ‘Tiger Temple’, ‘zoo’ or ‘sanctuary’, when with a little more effort it’s possible to see these animals in their natural habitat in the wild elsewhere in the region.


A group of tourists in Thailand's Tiger Temple posing for picture with an orangutan dressed in a t-shirt


If one is short of time, the animals in captivity tend to be the order of the day. These establishments, of which there are unfortunately many surrounding the tourist rich areas of Bangkok and Phuket, tend to feature well known tropical, dangerous and all too often endangered species, such as tigers (Panthera tigris), Orangutans (Pongo sp.), crocodiles (Crocodylus sp.), bears and a number of monkeys.


A tourist posing for a picture in Thailand's Tiger Temples with the tiger that has been de-clawed and looks very sleepy.


What happens behind the closed doors of Thailand’s Tiger Temples?

The main reason why I decided to write this blog, is that a very good friend of mine recently returned from a holiday in Thailand (unfortunately not booked through us!) and while he was proudly showing me his holiday snaps we came across some of those posted here. I have always been opposed to Thailand’s Tiger Temples and similar establishments, but there was something so starkly inhumane about the state of these noble, wise and impressive animals that it just broke my heart. I decided that I had to spread the word somehow.

At these places, you can get your photo taken with a tiger (adult or cub), as well as some of the other animals living here. Of course, the only way a total stranger could sit with a fully grown ‘King of the jungle’ is if it was de-clawed, beaten into submission and dosed with an extraordinary amount of drugs. You only need to look at these photos of tourists to see how spaced-out the animals clearly are.  And perhaps it has something to do with my recent return from the jungles of Borneo where I came face to face with a fully wild orangutan, that the sight of a fully grown male orang wearing a t-shirt with glazed eyes made me feel genuinely sick.

So many of these so-called ‘sanctuaries’ are essentially circuses, with Asian elephants balancing on one leg on a podium, tigers walking on their hind legs and being whipped, and ‘brave’ men sticking their hands inside a crocodile’s jaws ( the crocodile is either beaten into submission or drugged and please note that this ‘trick’ has backfired too many times.) The animal’s origins are largely unknown, and although some are captive bred, many undoubtedly come in as young victims of poaching, their mothers are taken for medicine, meat and sale of ornamental parts.

Essentially, what I am trying to do here is open people’s eyes to this and discourage as many as possible from visiting these centres. Not only because there are some more genuine, fantastic wildlife viewing opportunities in southeast Asia, but mostly because if these centers didn’t attract tourists they would be forced to close; allowing the animals the opportunity of a more dignified existence.


A male tourist posing for a picture with a large crocodile in Thailand's Tiger Temples.


Please note: As a conservationist, I am also a realist and do advocate situations in which people can be educated and experience the glorious nature of wildlife – otherwise why would you want to conserve them? I only advocate these opportunities to interact with wildlife if the animals are captive bred, treated in a caring and dignified manner, and the profit gained from the experiences sold go back into nature conservation. Otherwise, it is exploitation – pure and simple.

Would you like to see wildlife in Thailand?

At ETG, we are specialists in ethical and sustainable travel. You can read more about how we are working towards achieving better sustainability and animal protection.

If you’d like to talk to see wildlife in Thailand, do get in touch on 020 3411 6494  or make an enquiry.

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