The discovery of Tiger parts and cub carcasses at the Tiger Temple in Kanchanaburi has shocked the world, and it begs the question as to why the temple had been able to abuse the protected animals for so long. For decades, Wat Pa Luangta Maha Bua (Tiger Temple) had been a popular tourist spot where visitors could watch the big cats roaming around the temple. But when wildlife authorities moved in on Monday and began relocating more than 100 Tigers, they made a series of chilling discoveries throughout the week.
The first was the 40 dead Tiger cubs founds in a freezer — the heart-rending pictures of their helpless and lifeless bodies spread around the world within hours. More was to come: on following days a further 30 dead cubs were found in jars of formaldehyde, while the pelts of two adults and more than 1,000 talismans made from Tiger parts were seized. The carcasses of other wild animals, it should not be forgotten, were also found. The discovery raises serious questions about why the authorities involved had allowed the temple to run such a dubious business for decades. Even after the previous raid at the Tiger Temple last year, the illegal possession of protected species continued. At the time, the authorities arrested only a low-ranking layman worker, who was accused of receiving protected wild animals as donations. The authorities let the management and the abbot off the hook because they did not have sufficient evidence to file charges Last week’s raid, however, makes it virtually impossible for temple management to distance themselves from the operation. Animal rights groups had long accused the temple of breeding Tigers for sale on the black market. But such calls did not receive much attention from the authorities until last week. The authorities now have to ensure the Tigers from the temple are sent to proper animal shelter facilities and do not fall into the hands of another smuggling ring. Tigers are in high demand. Some people, under the impression that consuming wild animals boosts masculine strength, have medicine made of Tiger parts to improve their virility. The illegal possession of undomesticated animals at the temple should have been stopped a long time ago. However, under the guise of a charitable mission, the temple has over the years received and raised a number of Tigers, even though for most of that time it did not have the proper license required to operate as a zoo.
The Tiger Temple was able to continue its dubious operation for many years because, as has often been the case, law enforcement was lax. Officials turned a blind eye to the illegal practice. It is quite the mystery how trucks and vehicles carrying animals and carcasses managed to travel around unnoticed by officials. The cages full of rare, predatory animals inside the temple failed to raise suspicion as to why they were being raised there instead of a proper zoo. Part of the problem is that the layperson’s reluctance to step into matters involving clerics often means a lack of supervision. As people tend to associate the possession of wildlife with superstition, the Tiger Temple seemed to exploit such beliefs by producing talismans from bones, skin and organs which are supposed to represent the afterlife.
After last week, there can be no argument against reforming the temple. Repeated efforts to shut down the Tiger Temple were previously delayed and complicated by the fact secular Thai authorities were hesitant to intervene in the affairs of the clergy. Some officials did not feel comfortable enforcing the law because they faced resistance from surrounding villagers who argued that the temple had saved hesitant to intervene in the affairs of the clergy. Some officials did not feel comfortable enforcing the law because they faced resistance from surrounding villagers who argued that the temple had saved the Tigers.
Buddhist temples are governed by the Supreme Sangha Council. However, as a series of scandals have shown, the centralized understaffed governing body could not effectively enforce the regulations. Meanwhile, people should be educated and informed that it is illegal to trade protected animals. Thailand is a party to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. Wildlife should stay in the wild. Otherwise, endangered species should be in zoos. Trade in wild animals only encourages poaching and pushes vulnerable species to the brink of extinction. After the Tiger Temple raid, wildlife authorities must continue their efforts to suppress the smuggling and trafficking of wild animals otherwise it will only continue in a new location and under a different guise. If there is a bright side to come of last week, hopefully the Tiger Temple raid will come to show that no one is above the law. But given how many years the temple was able to get away with it, there is a long way to go before wild animals in Thailand can be considered safe.
From an article in the Bangkok Post.
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