Tiger Temple, or Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua Yanasampanno is a Theravada Buddhist temple in western Thailand. It was founded in 1994 as a forest temple and sanctuary for wild animals, among them several tigers, the majority of which are Indochinese tigers. The temple has long been accused by animal rights activists of mistreating the tigers for commercial gain and even trafficking some of its animals. Tiger Temple is in the Sai Yok District of Thailand’s Kanchanaburi Province, not far from the border with Burma, some 38 km (24 mi) northwest of Kanchanaburi on Hwy 323. The Tiger Temple charges an admission fee. The temple was cleared of allegations of animal mistreatment in a 2015 investigation conducted by wildlife officials and a raid by Thai soldiers. Charges were pressed for unlicensed possession of 38 protected birds found on the temple grounds.
In 1999 the temple received its first tiger cub, one that had been found by villagers. It died soon after. Later, several tiger cubs were given to the temple. As of January 2016, the number of tigers living at the temple exceeded 150. The original eight tigers brought to the temple were rescues, and thus far DNA data is incomplete and therefore unavailable to the public, as the pedigree of the tigers is not entirely known. However, it is presumed that they are Indochinese tigers, except Mek, a Bengal tiger. It is possible that some may be the newly discovered Malayan tigers, as well as cross breeds or hybrids.
It is claimed that the Tiger Temple’s philosophy for animal conservation is flawed, and an organization called Care for the Wild International claimed that based on information collected between 2005 and 2008, the Tiger Temple is involved in clandestine exchange of tigers with the owner of a tiger farm in Laos contravening the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and national laws of Thailand and Laos. It claimed it operates as a tiger breeding facility without having a license as required under the Thai Wild Animals Reservation and Protection Act of 1992. According to Edwin Wiek, founder of Wildlife Friends of Thailand, the temple’s operations violate CITES, an international treaty on wildlife to which Thailand is a signatory, which bans commercial breeding of protected wild animals such as tigers. All previous attempts by authorities to remove the tigers from Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua Yanasampanno have failed, including one in May 2015. Wiek believes this is due to the influence wielded by the temple and its abbot, Phra Wisutthisarathen.
Based on the Care for the Wild International report, a coalition of 39 conservation groups, including the Humane Society International, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, World Animal Protection, and the World Wide Fund for Nature, sent a letter to the director general of National Parks of Thailand under the name “The International Tiger Coalition”. The letter urged the director general to take action against the Tiger Temple over its import and export of 12 tigers with Laos, its lack of connection with accredited conservation breeding programs, and to genetically test the tigers at the Tiger Temple to determine their pedigree and value to tiger conservation programs. It concludes that the temple does not have the facilities, the skills, the relationships with accredited zoos, or even the desire to manage its tigers in an appropriate fashion. Instead, it is motivated purely by profit. In December 2006, ABC News spent three days at the temple and did not see any evidence of drugging or mistreating the animals. Both Thai and Western employees who were interviewed claimed that the animals were well-treated. The abbot of the monastery stated that the eventual goal was to breed tigers for release into the wild.