A flawed report
The first people I came across connected with the Temple were Alan and Karen Earp. I have never spoken to them, though not for the want of trying, but they had a website with great photos at TigerTemple.co.uk. This website went from a route for volunteers to get to the Temple, to a site that questioned what was going on with the money the Temple were making because the tiger island reserve was painfully slow at being built, to being closed down. Karen was a manager for the RSPCA and both she and her husband used to have a positive stance over the issues that faced the temple and now they wanted to distance themselves from it. It was obvious that they were being cajoled, or at the very least persuaded, to change the content of their site.
I did email them and asked why and the answer was they were not aware of the CWI report at the time of building the website. I had also asked if they witnessed any cruelty, bearing in mind this couple have a level of expertise in this area and had been living in the Temple for a considerable length of time, and the answer was 'no'.
I also found myself pointed in the direction of Care for the Wild International who I had previously never heard of. I read the CWI report and all the subsequent updated versions despite the evidence only being collected between 2005 and 2008 yet the last version was published in 2012 and found it flawed in almost every section. It has no notations or references, no supporting evidence and no citations. This document is hardly drawing attention to it's self because very little of it is attributable to the Tiger Temple and instead has instilled fear in other organisations for missing what was going on. Nobody wants to be seen to speak against it despite its authors having never once set foot in the Temple. Neither do its authors have any experience or qualification in tiger welfare but they have intentionally and successfully silenced those with knowledge from personal experience that know the report is in fact in many parts wrong. TigerTemplereport08
The first time we visited I questioned much of the activity out of curiosity. But what I learned was that I did not know much about tigers. And neither does the CWI. Yes the temple had problems and they were trying to improve things but they seem to have got themselves into a catch 22 with issues like keeping the tigers on chains is cruel but they were told to chain the tigers for visitors safety by the DNP at the direct request of the CWI. Not going to this temple as the CWI desire will not help in any way, which means sites such as Kanchanaburi info, get it completely wrong in their ill-guided attempt to be politically correct and advise tourists to not go there. Kanchanburi.info did not find this report themselves, which means the CWI must have contacted them and I question the motives when that happens and wonder, why is your agenda vindictive rather than proactive, and what is going to feed the animals if the visitors stop coming? The CWI claim that the financial support will not dry up if their recommendations are implimented yet their censure had already achieved a detrimental affect on private donations and support.
The Temple had consistently demonstrated a willingness to implement recommendations made by the CWI who being amateurs in tiger welfare were requesting changes that were not improvements. As an individual there was little I could do to convince the CWI of the error of its ways and yet they felt it necessary to change the document that was their final report to be more in line with my complaints to them. Thus becoming the new final report and still full of misleading information.
Sybelle Foxcroft in a later examination of procedures pointed to the over feeding of cubs with bottled milk and that the temple were risking the health of mature cats by continuing to feed them bottled milk in order to keep them tame and calm amongst humans. Some of that got back via Edwin Weik to the CWI who then published further damning evidence of misfeeding at the temple. It has to be considered that in the case of tiger welfare there is no such thing as an expert. It is a shameful reality that no Governments have invested in tiger research, there are no qualifications or magic fix for the tiger plight, it is left to NGO's and charities to research this topic. But there is no excuse for trying to mislead to gain a mob following. Tigers have been filmed in the wild suckling on their mothers as late as three years of age. What little is known from captive management has shown that cubs will stop feeding if they are full. They cannot be forcefed. In the photos above you can see tigers coming to the keepers for affection and wanting a bottle for pleasure.
The CWI report photos look really bad but are not as they would appear. The soaking tiger cowering in a cage has been hosed down with cool drinking quality water because he is too hot. He may not like it much but when this is done every two hours on hot days they get used to it. The girl sat on a tiger is foolhardy and her parents were reckless but for the animal, she really hasn't had her life ruined by it. One thing I did learn is that tigers are not like domestic animals. They are strong and tough and not quick to anger. But they can be quick to lash out if they get fed up. The CWI criticises the public endangerment and well they should but it is the parents of the girl who need educating and the temple does have notices telling you to be careful. These notices and changes of practice are because the CWI requested them but in a later version of the report the CWI change tactic and accuse the temple of creating disclaimers to prevent law suits.
The cats are content and it is visibly obvious they are well fed and healthy. I noticed the park keepers keep slapping the bigger cats on the ears. Apparently it keeps the flies and ticks off that seem to prefer the ears. Asking if the tigers like being slapped I was assured the tiger would let them know if he didn't like it.
By far the wildest and easiest accusation to be refuted is the torture to control the cats. No cat has been found to have had its teeth or claws removed as is claimed and they behave affectionately toward the keepers. They will not be found pacing up and down the cage with boredom and they are not locked up when they should be exercising. They are not beaten, chained up (with the exception of public safety) and most importantly, they are not drugged, which was by far the most outrageous claim by more than one ex-volunteer. They are for the most part playful when in the company of visitors and when they are not in the mood for it they are returned to their cages. But with so many cats and staff there will always be one who will abuse a cat and every time this happens, and because these days there is nowhere to hide, it ends up on youtube and it does not get there because the owner cares about tigers. It is about showing off to the world what they have captured. I see this as a good thing for the temple who is learning how to manage a safari park because they can retrain/dismiss bad employees and improve on big cat welfare. There is no collating evidence, apart from Sybelle Foxcroft, and assembling a picture of malpractice and that leads to the Temple contstantly patching up the exposed areas only to be exposed somewhere else.
Writing letters of complaint and making a largely refutable report from hearsay is not the way to manage conservation issues and the problem with the CWI's report is that it has permeated throughout newspapers and magazines and is now finding its way into ethical websites such as thaiwildorchids.com like a computer virus. There are links to forums such as Thai Visa where Wilko, anonymously writes an article that is a full copy of a report by Carl Parkes. But because this is a Buddhist Temple, you can say whatever you want, they are not going to take any legal action (see legal action in the side menu) or write any contradiction to your claims. There are also links to plagiarist's paradise, more commonly referred to as YouTube, some of which are shocking and I am appalled that someone would video what is perceptively abusive and not say something or ask what is going on. I didn't witness anything like this despite spending many weeks at the Temple though there has been improvements in staff training since this report was published.
Virtually all these websites have spawned from the CWI report and for every one speaking out against there are dozens that defend and it seems those who speak against have not been there whilst those who defend it have. Most disconcerting is the defence is merely gestural with an obvious wish to not directly contradict the CWI. I have read the most inane of accusations that say more about the author's level of education than it does about their knowledge of animal welfare. One idiot (and I use the term loosely) who admits she has not been to Luangta Bua and would not because of the cruelty to the tigers, says the tigers are being fed on putrid dog food and whilst I do not wish to explain why both cat and dog food exist, canned foods have been manufactured since the first world war, and if you were to open a tin of processed food from that time it would still be edible and not putrified. The tigers are fed on cat food, Whiskers at that because dog food does not contain Vitamin A, also fresh cooked meats and the cat food is mixed in to replace vitamins lost from the meat during cooking. Another is that 800 visitors a day is bringing in an income of 200 million Baht a year (3.5 million GBP) and the Abbott cannot demonstrate where all the money is going.
I have done my own maths and exaggeratedly there are 400 visitors on a very good day. The rainy season means no visitors for four months, religious festivals and holidays equals another 28 days. By comparison, we visited on a Saturday during school holidays and there was about 50 visitors, though there was a recession on, nevertheless, the above gives an average of 230 visitors per day. Of those about one third are Thai and go half price and one third are classed as children and go half price and that 200 million is now more like 18 million (£325,000) and this figure is an exaggeration. There are 25 full time staff wages, 17 full grown tigers that need feeding. They need 150 tins of Whiskers every day and still manage to save a bit toward building the almost complete tiger island. The allegation is that the Monks at Luangta Bua are profiteering from animal suffering but there isn't any financial evidence that is what is happening.**
** currently this is 93 tigers that cost 500,000 baht per week to feed and provide care and the Tiger Island is complete
The CWI report is a collection of poorly constructed out of date reports and was an out of date compilation on completion (as is this web page because the CWI keep moving the goalposts). Accusations of unlicensed trafficking are not denied by the temple but the accusation dates back to several years before the agreement came to light and there is no evidence of repeat activity after the legality was brought to the Abbott's attention by the DNP. There is also the fact that Laos and Thailand have a trade agreement that does not require licensing, importation duties, or border control so moving CITES agreement animals across the border either way between these two countries is not an International trade and is therefore not a criminal offence nor does it require a license. Wat Pa Luangta Bua Yannasampanno need help and education with caring for tigers and the CWIs idea of help is to take away the tigers that the temple is in no way reliant upon, and they start that process by removing the income that feeds the tigers. The CWI claim that an alternative site was found by them to relocate the tigers. When the National Parks Commission Director investigated he found the alternative location did not have the resources to care for the Temple's tigers and after talks with the Abbott concluded that staying where they are was a better alternative and that there was no evidence that the tigers would not be properly cared for.
At CWIFTP is a fact sheet and whilst some of their bulletpoints are acurate they relate to global issues and not the Tiger Temple and as such are intentional innuendo:
"There are countless, well-documented and sometimes fatal, attacks on humans by 'trained' and apparently mild-mannered captive wild cats from around the world. These include attacks during photography sessions."
And how many of these have occurred at Luangta Bua? None though the Abbott was once bitten during feeding.
"the Temple is not registered with the Thai authorities as an appropriate institution."
It is registered with the Thai authorities - as a Buddhist Temple. It is also licensed for breeding captive big cats and is a registered zoo which brings in to question what the CWI would consider an 'appropriate institution'?
"Tiger farms exist for the sole purpose of breeding tigers to cater to the demand for traditional Chinese medicines, exotic meats and other commercial exploits of tiger parts."
Registered tiger farms, including Luangta Bua Yannasampanno, do no such thing and is a non-sensical claim by the CWI. Craig Busch, a.k.a. Lionman, started out his career with four white tigers bred in the USA. He did take the trouble to make sure they were not related before taking them to New Zealand, why? Because he wanted them for breeding to save this rare species. Were these tigers bred under license? No-one knows. Is there any kind of conservation plan at the Zion Wildlife Park? Craig Busch says there would be if he hadn't been dismissed. That is an admission there wasn't before but Craig Busch was and still is collecting donations for conservation. More recently he made an episode in his series where he went to Africa to purchase two more Royal White Tigers and a White Lion to take back to New Zealand to expand the breeding stock. The Royal White Tiger is not a natural animal, it was first bred by two magicians called Siegfried and Roy. Trying to save something that never did exist in the wild is like trying to save the Alsatian dog and tigers are not and never were indigenous to either Africa or New Zealand. But Craig Busch does breed something much more important. He breeds care and education. He brings these cats much closer to the public and brings to our attention the plights that threaten them. He doesn't as far as anyone I know is aware, do it for Chinese medicine.
The accusation is that Luangta Bua exists to entertain tourists not for Chinese medicine or farming and with a less biased view Buddhist Channel did investigate for themselves and obtained the following: "As for illegal trade, Samart said "there is no confirmation that the temple has been concerned in the dealing of tigers." and "Gonzalez of the Tiger Temple also asserts the temple does not trade tigers. But, he said, the monks don't ask about the origins of animals that appear at their gates. That's because the monks consider the tigers, along with the monastery's eclectic menagerie of more than 200-odd animals, part of their spiritual family."
In Novosibirsk in Siberia is the Institute of Cytology and Genetics where a long term experiment took place using silver foxes that are notoriously vicious to see what happens if you manage their breeding habits. Within three generations (about 4 years) they had produced tame animals that bore the resemblence of domesticated dogs. They also bred their natural instincts into another set of foxes for comparison and discovered it completely manageable. This model is similar in practice to the Yannasampanno Forest Monastery where they are deliberately breeding third generation cats as pets that are presented to the public. At the same time they are breeding naturalised cats in the hope that they will be allowed to be involved in wildlife preservation at a later date. This issue of breeding is deliberately misreported by the CWI as breeding cats that can never be placed in the wild because they will be humanised. The temple is not doing this and never had any intention of it. They have two individual breeding programs and the cats that are currently in cages will never be introduced to the public. They will be placed in the tiger island when it is complete and until they may possibly be released into the wild but with today's technology and lack of environment this would be impossible.
The CWI point to this naive statement by the Abbott as evidence they do not know what they are doing but the Abbott did not say today or tomorrow. He said 'one day' and that 'this is my dream'
The key assertion of one tiger organisation about the Temple's tigers is that they are hybrids from tigers collected from unknown locations and as such they are detrimental to conservation. Also that many attempts to re-introduce captive tigers have been unsuccessful, no DNA testing has been carried out, and that tiger subspecies in the wild do not cross breed.
The last comment is factually incorrect. Most mammals will breed within their species. The conservation claim is caused by geographical restriction and not subspecies preferential mating habits.  Lonympics says "the Amur Tiger sometimes cross-breeds with the Bengal Tiger". Inevitably when the two habitats meet from northern India all the way to China. Messybeast describe an accidental release with "she escaped into the [reservation] where she bred. In the 1990s, some Dhudhwa tigers were observed which had the typical appearance of Siberian tigers".
As for the hybrid claim, News Softpedia reported in April 2008 that "About 50% of captive tigers [worldwide] are purebred". In the same month Science Daily reported that "researchers have discovered that many apparently generic tigers actually represent purebred subspecies and harbor genomic diversity no longer found in nature".
And the killer blow for the conservationists argument is that "Captive Tigers May Hold Key To Conservation" as reported in the science news section at Red Orbit.
I emailed the CWI to ask how they know the tigers are hybrid if no DNA testing has taken place. They haven't replied. Actually I have sent them three emails with different questions and they haven't answered any of them.
I emailed Conservation International to ask about their involvement with the letter sent on their behalf to the Commissioner in Thailand and (name withheld by request) replied "We are dedicated to conservation, we are not private investigators" and "we cannot comment on a letter that we didn't write."
I emailed the International Tiger Coalition on 1st September 2009 to ask whether the letter was sent by them or on their behalf and although their website says "Working around the Globe and around the clock to save tigers" in 2013 I am still waiting for a reply.
I emailed Big Cat Rescue, an acknowledged sanctuary in Florida and the Chairman, Carole Baskin replied, "No one has tried to send tigers back to the habitat from whence they came [because] they are so persecuted in their homeland they would only be killed."
It is notable that the CWI report states that many attempts to relocate tigers have failed while several expert organisations say it has not been tried. In fact it was tried once by an American TV company and it was a miserable failure.
Safety is something that has to be managed which is something that wasn't done at Craig Busch's Zion Wildlife Gardens in Whangarei, New Zealand where in 2009 a tiger attacked and killed an experienced park keeper. News footage here. Or at the San Francisco Zoo where in 2006 a tiger called Tatiana during a public feeding clawed and bit veteran zookeeper Lori Komejan's arm and severely injured the woman. The California Occupational Safety and Health Administration found the zoo at fault due to inadequate safety precautions and staff training. This has not happened at the Tiger Temple and there are several claims it has but no evidence is ever provided. The CWI report doesn't say any attack of this magnitude has happened at the temple but says it might, and without publishing a risk assessment they cannot possibly know. It is purely an assumption. They do describe an incident of a Thai lady who put her hand through the bars of a cage and got badly scratched. They do not name her, say when it happened, or reference the hospital.
The decision of COSH regarding Lori Komejan was because it transpired it has happened before at the zoo in February 2001. Then on Christmas day in 2007, only one year after Lori was injured, three young men were attacked by the caged animal who escaped again and this time she killed Carlos Sousa who was just 17 and mauled brothers Amritpal and Kulbir Dhaliwal aged 19 and 23. In June 2008 the City of San Francisco denied responsibility for the attacks referring claims filed to the San Francisco Zoological Society because the terms of the lease indemnify the city from any claims. The zoo's terms also negated the society from responsibility and yet the CWI consider signing the Temple's terms and conditions on entry into the park a recognition that accidents are an inevitability.
Incidentally if you should volunteer to do field work for the CWI you must first sign a disclaimer and I am sure the CWI would not have double standards so they expect you to die for them as well maybe? Actually in 2009 they did exactly that when they supplied the name of their undercover agent to the organisation being investigated on the CWI's behalf. They do not care about volunteer's safety, they care about justifying their existence, and money.
In fact all recorded tiger attacks by captive tigers have occurred in zoos and institutions and there has not been any incident involving free-roaming tigers in national parks or in the wild or on private owners having regular contact except where they have been used for photo sessions and again, the CWI bend the truth by imbibement. At Marine World in Vallejo, USA in July 1998 a Bengal Tiger attacked a woman during a photo session. The cat did not like the flashing. In January 1996 two Cougars attacked a keeper under similar circumstances. In November 1986 a tiger from Marine World was taken to San Mateo High School where it attacked a senior playing football during a noisy pep rally and none of these antics are allowed at the Monastery where photography and crowds are strictly controlled.
I highlighted the San Francisco Zoo because they are a wildlife preservation body, a member of the Association of Zoos, and they are cited as one of the governing bodies by the CWI in their letter of complaint on behalf of the ITC about the Tiger Temple to the Director General of the Wildlife Conservation Department in Thailand. This letter does raise some questions with regard to what it's intent is really about?
The letter is insulting and questions the authorities knowledge of tigers. This is an organisation that already has a Tiger Preservation Plan in operation. They have a thorough understanding of how to and is considerably more advanced in research and knowledge than the CWI. In fact the DNP is a world leading body in preservation, in particular with tigers, and has been selected to host the Katmandu project meetings that the Deli Llama called for. Long ago the DNP cordoned off areas of forest that is now protected and for the most part it is respected by the people with the exception of tigers wandering into inhabited areas where they are certain to be killed and would you expect anything else? In San Francisco the police shot dead Tatiana and in Thailand the same would happen. So why was this letter sent? A phone call or an email to the DNP would have sufficed and I can see no other reason than so they could publish the letter. Nowhere on the DNP website is there a mention of the Tiger Temple nor have they found it necessary to publish any of their findings, which is their normal practice.
The report says 80 visitors a day visit the menagerie while one of the photos says it is of 900 visitors readying to have their photos taken with the animals. The photo actually has about a dozen or so tourists in it. They refer to video evidence all of which is linked from YouTube where I found 63 videos of a vicious tiger attributed to the temple that is a tiger chase in India and it seems wrong to me to build your evidence on very short out of context private video posted by someone who does not know the difference between a Bengal and the Indochinese tiger and it is not their footage. The only references in the report are websites and I am surprised that it took three years to research elementary facts about tigers on the Internet. There are no learned, legal, or factual cross references. They do not name names or dates and do not have any photographic or affidavit evidence that they publish. They do not corroborate a solitary allegation.
I am not trying to condemn the CWI and contrary to my scepticism I think you should go and look at some of the video footage and decide for yourself. Personally I do not understand the desire to be violent to such a majestic animal but there is no acknowledgement of when it happened, if the handler still works there, was he reprimanded, what? Why is there a deliberate attempt to misinform or withhold some of the facts? Most of the videos are ridiculous like the empty cages. All zoos have pens for a lot of reasons and I have seen them offering much more confinement than these but what threat does an empty cage pose to an endangered species? The CWI state that it is the bareness and the solitariness offered by the confinement that they take issue with. But you have to ask, would a confined tiger care about decor? Then there is the footage of urine collecting but it could be for many reasons like pregnancy, dietary or general health checks. There is footage of a tiger cage pacing but his behaviour actually suggests he is excited probably because it is feeding or exercise time and the CWI does not provide any evidence that they actually visited the park and asked these questions. They are reliant solely upon witness statements from young volunteers who did not understand their working environment.
During a conversation with Garrett Barnicoat, the Assistant Program Director of the Save the Tiger Fund, about the Amur tiger, I asked him what would be the minimum number of cats in a pack for them to able to survive. He told me "the Amur is one of our success stories and while the number in each protected area may vary greatly. The consensus among biologists is that there needs to be at least 35 tigers in each fragmented area of habitat to maintain the genetic viability of the population." It is a surprisingly low number and this rule applies across the board with all the subspecies. The survival of the Indochinese tiger however is also dependant on poachers of another kind. Their habitat is almost uncharted territory of two narrow strips of mountainous jungle between China and Burma down through Laos and between Laos and Thailand all of which is protected by the respective governments. Poachers have systematically killed large numbers of big animals such as Llama, Deer, and Wild Boar, which is the staple diet of the tiger. This has led to the tigers eating smaller prey like Muntjac and Porcupine, which in turn reduces the size of the animal and its population.
The CWI report is of a much less complex problem and demonstrates a lack of understanding with comments about saving environments and repopulation both of which would have no impact whatsoever on the Indochinese tiger population. The situation is salvageable if conservation is driven more assertively at governments internationally to provide aid to reduce poverty. By repopulating the big animal stocks the Indochinese tiger will return without any human intervention. Trading parts or derivatives of tigers is illegal and there is no evidence that was ever the Temple's intention. In fact it goes wholly against all Siddha's teachings and the monks would consider these tigers spiritual brothers and sisters awaiting their next life. If you want to save tigers you do it the STF way and lobby governments not a park keeper in Thailand. You succeed by gaining recognition for national parks not by complaining about someone having too many pets.
It appears the CWI came by a copy of an unintentionally illegal agreement that was sufficient for them to make it personal and their agenda was aimed at closing down the Temple's activities and had little to do with conservation and they set about that task by using statistics that have no relationship to the situation at the Temple. Primarily that Asian countries illegally breed genetically impure tigers on a grand scale that can never be placed in the wild and the Tiger Temple is a key culprit. Back to my emails to the CWI, I asked "Which country is the biggest producer of illegally bred captive tigers?". I don't know why they won't reply but I do think they are playing on your lack of knowledge about tigers. There are more captive tigers in the USA than any other country in the world. A country where the tiger is not indigenous. All of them have been produced because of a loophole in the International Tiger Treaty in that it only applies to Asian countries and is self imposed. More than half the world's tigers are in the USA, more than 500 in Houston alone and none of this stock is of conservational value. Frequently these cats end up in sanctuaries and are quickly replaced with a cub that has been bred without a permit and it is globalised facts like this that the CWI are using to emphasise their issue with the Tiger Temple.
The agreement was also incorrectly translated by someone as an exchange of one tiger for the other and then by the CWI as a trading agreement but it doesn't say that. It says that the two tigers are to breed until the female has a successful litter and then the owner wants his cat back. There is no suggestion that the temple is actively trading tigers with a farm in Laos. Only that the owner of Dua Leuang is the owner of a tiger farm in Laos. Ironically the key reason for this contract was because the CWI accused the Temple of inbreeding with too small a stock so they went elsewhere to find males and then the CWI accused the Temple of crossbreeding DNA types.
The CWI report is more detrimental to conservation than any private zoo or farm by obtaining evidence of cruelty and not assembling a proper enquiry paper that could have been put to the Thai authorities for a public prosecution. If any illegality has taken place that the Abbott is accountable for the CWI has let the culprits escape with legal loopholes because this report would be inadmissible as evidence in Thai judicial proceedings under the Admissible Evidence Act 1968 (hearsay allowed in civil cases), and now any evidence they do have may also be inadmissible because any trial has been prejudiced by publicity, and this doesn't look accidental. If the CWI had evidence to support any of their allegations they should have pursued a public prosecution in Thailand and whilst I cannot get an answer to the question even after trying to telephone them, I suspect they did try and failed, and so now rather than write off three years of poorly done research, they use it as propaganda for their own cause in the full knowledge it is largely untrue.
In 2007 everything was not perfect at Luangta Bua and I feel concerned that if I didn't see any abuse was I being hoodwinked or had the Temple changed it's ways? By the time I returned in 2009 I saw a vastly different place and because of a recent BBC journalist's investigation of the now completed tiger island, that had for a long time so very many critics, I want to go again. Whenever I am asked if I think it is ok to go there I always reply yes if you like the idea of rolling round in the dirt with a tiger. But would I take a toddler if I had one? No I wouldn't. Did I think it was dangerous? Yes I did and you should consider that before going. Someday the Tiger Temple will be vindicated although it will always have its critics as do all zoos. But in the meantime you have to decide, do you visit because the tales might be nothing more than suspicions, or do you forego the opportunity because of a bunch of manipulative, financially motivated, secretive liars?
I have recently been told that all the points I make above are long out of date. Which is ironic considering so are all the accusations being made about the tiger temple.