Tiger Temple

Trip Start Sep 18, 2010
Trip End Jul 27, 2011

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Flag of Thailand  ,
Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Had someone forced Shaista to pick one sight only in Thailand, this is what she would have wanted to do. Even before we went there. I myself had mixed feelings. Lonely Planet doesn't even cover it due to its controversial reputation. There is merely a boxed feature speaking to the controversy and indirectly suggesting to not support it. So what is it all about?

Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua, the Tiger Temple is a Buddhist Temple and sanctuary to several wild animals, mostly tigers. It is rumoured to mistreat the animals and drug them to allow for up close and personal encounters with paying tourists. Makes perfect sense to me! You can't have wild animals hang around hundreds of tourists every day without accidents ever happening. Unless they are drugged. Right? The monks and temple management naturally declines any such accusations. My curiosity got the better of me, so I go along, bad conscious in tow.

At first I feet quite sad, seeing these majestic animals chained down to sit around and pose with tourists. A few years back in Zambia, I had the chance to visit a project, raising lions to be relocated into the wild and help save them from extinction. Similar to the Tiger Temple, you get to hang out and interact with lions. However, there, it was in a natural environment and the animals were roaming freely within a controlled area, not cages (see this album on fb and some videos on my fb video page http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=204199&id=775400064&l=357451cc8c). Call me over-travelled and under-exciteable, but while I don't deny the 'coolness' of being around those tigers, it doesn't quite feel right at first.
I slightly change my mind when we get to see the tigers' play time with their handlers. Truely an experience I would not have wanted to miss. And finally, on the way out, we chat with a Canadian volunteer. I can't resist to challenge him on the one question he surely must have heard millions of times before. The tigers MUST be drugged? His explanation (and the argument presented to the media) is that tigers are active at night, they are only allowed to be close to tourists in the hottest time of the day, when they are dozy, they are being fed cooked meats to avoid giving them the taste of blood and they grow up around humans from birth. Listening to him and his experience as a volunteer, I finally think, you can't fool or brainwash dozens of volunteers into promoting the kosherness of this place, if it wasn't right. So eventually, I am sold on it being alright and happy I came.

We also ask Canuck (I don't remember his name) about his volunteering experience. He raves about it and shows us his tiger scars, from play times gone a bit too wild. A big scratch here, a scar there, a finger tip missing.... A constant reminder that these are after all not house cats. Volunteers need to apply and argue their interest. Speaking English and German as well as having marketing experience would put me in a favourable spot I think. You need to stay for at least a month. Accommodation and one or two meals a day are paid for. My dad's ironic reaction was 'That would be useful experience for Toronto'. My mom didn't think it was funny, when I used this joke of my dad's telling her about my plans of doing an Elephant trainer course in Chiang Mai. If she doesn't think me being an Elephant Mahoud is aspirational, you think she'd approve of the Tiger Temple volunteering? I'll report back if I decide to do this :)
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Martinez on

Hey yu,
I would strongly request you decline the impulse to be a "tiger mahoud," regardless of how cool it might seem. You need your face, your body, and your life. Apart from the daily fact of the of the real possibility for daily instant death, these are wild animal beings that demand and deserve their own space. That space is not interacting with humans regardless of how many hollywood movies and zoos we have seen. Wild tigers are an impossible to control dangerous threat. Think about it, and admire them from afar only!

henniterness on

haha. I will be sure to consult with you if such a decision becomes a real consideration :)

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