The monks of Tiger Temple are touting a new big cat attraction. Even as the government of Thailand continues to investigate allegations of animal abuse and illegal tiger breeding and trafficking at the Buddhist monastery, a legal offshoot of the temple is constructing a 10-acre, $3.4 million zoo facility near the original temple.
As we reported earlier, the so-called “Tiger Temple” monastery, which profited from a decades-long practice of unsanctioned breeding and trading tigers, was finally exposed by Sharon Guynup’s reporting, with the help of wildlife nonprofit Cee4life. Now Guynup reports that a Tiger Temple offshoot named Golden Tiger (Thailand) Company Ltd., obtained a government zoo license last year, and have applied for permission to buy 105 tigers from another Thai facility that calls itself a zoo. Guynup pointed out that this “zoo” has never been open to the public, however, and is “another commercial breeding outfit.”
“For me, this is about tiger farming,” Guynup tells Men’s Journal. The current estimate of wild tigers is under 4,000 worldwide, split among five subspecies, she says, compared to around 6,000 on tiger farms in China, 2,500 in Thailand, and unknown numbers in Vietnam and elsewhere around the world.
The availability of farmed tigers is helping drive up demand for luxury wildlife products including skins, tiger bone wine, and tiger meat, says Guynup, which in turn makes poaching wild tigers even more lucrative. “Captive breeding is the largest threat facing wild tigers today, and unless those farms are phased out, and the market really decreases, wild tigers are not going to survive.”
Guynup termed operations like Tiger Temple “the tip of the iceberg” in a poaching crisis endangering both tigers and people. “It’s a national security issue. The people perpetrating this crime are the same people trafficking drugs, weapons, and humans. Many nations, the United States included, believe this is just another product in the portfolio for international criminal organizations.”