Who is Sybelle Foxcroft?
To recognise why the CWI started spreading rumours about the Temple you need to understand a little about conservation and animal welfare organisations and the influences that can affect decisions and policies made by them.
Firstly, whenever politics is invited to take onboard a national or global problem it becomes a vote winner or loser and negotiation and compromise become an inevitable influence. The CWI is always by nature of their business going to have this problem but they choose to get into bed with it for financial reasons at home and are often guilty of assuming a higher authority when abroad. They could be accused of cosseting an attitude of funds come from the CWI and therefore those who are in need are also reliant or even knowledgeably inferior.
They rely heavily upon public support so if there are several complaints about the same location or a specific animal welfare event it becomes necessary to carry out some sort of investigation or formally complain to the culprit. The RSPCA relies wholly on information from a single source of the public. For example, you complain about your neighbours dog barking, they attend to see why the dog barks. This results in more than half the attended calls are time and resources wasted. A CWI funded organisation told me that if they receive six complaints about a single issue they will launch an investigation. This sounds good on paper but the CWI are well aware that it has cause and reprisal because their sole reason for launching an investigation is because of general public who do not understand the situation that they perceive as abuse and have no knowledge or information. For example, elephants, lions, chimpanzees are no longer seen as an acceptable form of entertainment in a circus while horses, rabbits and doves are considered permissible. This inconsistency has developed over time because of public opinion more so than animal welfare. The RSPCA will investigate any report indiscriminately whilst the CWI have received numerous complaints over a number of years from several members of staff at one particular site that the CWI fund and they have not initiated any investigation.
Then there is the political infighting between organisations competing for funding and exposure and sometimes the glory. Most of the organisations know each other and the personnel within. Often it descends into headhunting or incestuous board memberships in name only merely providing an income for the beneficiary. There is always good reason for this and usually for lobbying parliaments or it provides a means to an end but face it, you are donating money for animal sanctuaries, but it is going into someone's pocket. Not all organisations can be accused of this but Oxfam were discovered paying the chairman an exorbitant salary in the 1970's and they still have honorary directors. The CWI Chief Executive was Dr. Barbara Maas. I don't know what she has a doctorate in. I cannot find it listed anywhere. In 2008 it was brought to attention by the CWI the crisis of how few dolphin are left in New Zealand's seas. Dr. Mass who has relatives in New Zealand travelled there for talks over what can be done to save them. On the Internet you can find petitons and discussion boards and demands to rally for public attention. You cannot find anything on how Dr. Mass' visit went or what it achieved. Dress it up however you like, she did nothing wrong, but has it gone silent because it was a failure and the CWI don't want to say so or was it a free holiday?
Then there is the in-house secrecy and unwillingness to divulge information. I asked the CWI how funds are routed and how many bank accounts they use. They wouldn't tell me but as a registered charity, bearing in mind as a tax payer in the UK you are already supporting them even if you do not wish to, they are required to publish their accounts. They are not liable for VAT and receive a 6% income tax bonus against publicly donated funds. This is because the money donated has already had income tax paid on it. Or has it? It would be impossible to take the taxation from someone's income tax and send it to the charity in question each time someone makes a donation. That means all tax payers are paying from a central fund regardless of who is making the donation. It could be someone on social security benefits so as a tax payer I am paying for the donation as well as the tax relief and it is not in the interests of any charitable trust or organisation to get drawn publicly into the financial wrangling and besides, they don't care, they just want your money.
The CWI registration number is 288802 and their published accounts can be found at the Charities Commission. There isn't anything anomalous about them and they suffer from the same questionable interrogations as any other registered charity but their secrecy with accounting causes suspicion. For example, cash donations are impossible to track or expenses are an admissible claim. I am not making any accusation and I'm sure the CWI is legitimate but they are enjoying travel and perks at the expense of kind hearted donators. They use every available avenue to raise funds and sometimes it is trickery and illusion and one of the CWI's methods is sponsorship. I asked a long time ago how do I know my money will go to the animal I am sponsoring. The answer was I will have a plaque with my name on it and I go into a register to show I am a sponsor. But that was not what I asked. It is likely the money goes into a central fund that is evenly distributed amongst those in need of regular donation. But with the CWI that also does not stand up to scrutiny. The CWI has funded the legal fees to defend a Dutch man by the name of Edwin J. Weik who is the secretary general of the Wildlife Friends Foundation of Thailand. This is an organisation whose rescue centre in Patchaburi was raided by the DNP who had to confiscate 14 animals that were illegally captive at the menagerie. Your money donated to help animals is being used to defend someone who committed an imprisonable offence when he wrote several magazine articles in Thailand that were not only defamatory but also untrue. The CWI has a huge resource of funds available if needed for Mr. Weik's legal expenses but how much would they have if they ran a separate campaign to raise funds specifically for him?
Deeper scrutiny turns up all kinds of questions which these organisations are not willing to answer and usually it is media related. Fending off a relentless stream of interrogation from reporters looking for a controversy is not an enviable task and the CWI employs a media manager by the name of Rebecca Taylor. I emailed Rebecca with a simple question which she would not answer directly so I telephoned her and she would not entertain any questions without my telling her who I was acting for. She knew that information was not mine to divulge and was nothing more than a get out clause for her to not answer any questions. Is it appropriate to not answer questions to anyone regardless of why and who they are? Surely it would be in their interest to answer any and all queries. Well not really, a media manager's job is not to answer questions, it is to provide the media with news items and the public with the information they want you to have and despite many attempts to talk to Mark Jones, the centre manager, or the listed trustee Dominic Dyer, no one except Rebecca Taylor will reply.
One of the questions I wanted to ask is 'how many tigers did you save in Thailand in 2008 and how many in total?' Their last submitted SIR for 2008 says they rescued tigers in Thailand but it doesn't specify any detail. I can tell you they did not rescue a single tiger in Thailand in 2008 and I am not aware of them rescuing any tigers ever and I just wanted one example that would prove me wrong. This is not an assumption on my part and I have scoured the organisations to try and find what sanctuaries are where in Thailand. There are none associated with the CWI for big cats in Thailand. The CWI in a report about the tiger temple says there is and recommended it to the DNP in Thailand for them to rehouse the cats from the temple. I don't think so, I think one of the many organisations within the scope of WFFT or WARF suggested a sanctuary that might be able to help but when the Director of National Parks visited they found it wholly inadequate. The DNP visited and the CWI did not even though they claimed to be associated with it.
The CWI mission statement also says "IN LINE WITH OUR MISSION, CWI SAVES AND PROTECTS WILD ANIMALS AROUND THE WORLD THAT WOULD OTHERWISE BE KILLED, ABUSED, NEGLECTED OR HUNGRY." This just isn't true. I know that one trainee conservationist who carried out research surreptitiously inside the temple had to beg the CWI to help pay veterinary fees for a young cat that the temple could not or would not afford to help and because of Buddhist convictions could not have it destroyed. The CWI refused because they did not want to be seen as assisting the temple with funding. So much for primarily caring about animals. I have asked several organisations if they are aware that the CWI saves and protects wild animals and all of them replied that they thought the CWI provided funding for such projects. This caused me to email the CWI using a pseudonym to ask for the name and address of the sanctuary run by them for big cats in Thailand as I would like to visit and make a donation. They have not replied.
All charities have to be non-profit making which means they have to spend their entire budget each year which in turn means they never have resources available for emergencies. It may be detrimental but is designed to make financial irregularities almost impossible. Like all charitable organisations the CWI never has enough funds or resources and when given a problem for which they have an undertaking they have to use whatever methods and resources they can find or have readily available. This inevitably leads to exaggeration of capacity and a notion that alternatives are better than the existing situation.
Lastly there is the problem of who will listen? If you are the NSPCC you can run ad' campaigns on the TV from your advertising budget. If you are Bob Geldof you can make a public appeal and approach politicians. But if you are the Harborne Cat Shelter who will listen? Often the CWI will purport material as their own because to identify the originator or author will reduce its value because that person will likely carry no credibility. To publish it as their own will get public attention and wobble the knees of those in authority. This is a good thing, but it opens a Pandora's Box to people who think inaccurate claims are unacceptable, and because it has been dumbed down and embellished, questioning these organisations inevitably makes them want to close the lid. The reason always given is anonymity and safety and privacy. Something the CWI are not very good at. Then again none of the conservation organisations are. Information on people who work for or on behalf of is strictly top secret. Ask the CWI for the list of people involved in the investigation into the tiger temple and they will say sorry but we are not able to divulge that information. I went to an organisation supported by the CWI and they told me the answer. The CWI will not under any circumstances divulge their sources. But they handed a dossier that might as well have had someone's name all over it to the Director of National Parks in Thailand when it suited them.
The CWI does not possess a good history of conservation projects but what has it financed in Thailand? The Wild Animal Rescue Foundation of Thailand, WARF, was started with funds and the support of the CWI given to Leonie and Pongsagdi Vejjajiva. Leonie was an ex-pat Brit who had a love of Gibbons and her husband a self made man and ex-politician related to ex-Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. Their Gibbon Sanctuary was out of control and needed an expansion program and a means to providing a legacy so the reason for CWI's involvement was right. What subsequently happened was complacency and a self-belief that anything CWI is good. They failed to monitor it, check it, validate its work, or disassociate when things went wrong.
When the Vejjajiva's retired a management structure was put in place. By now WARF had swallowed up four other sanctuaries, The Gibbon Rehabilitation Project in Phuket, The Krabok Koo Project, The Lopburi Rescue Centre and Zoo, and The Macaque & Bear Rescue Centre. It has since worked its way into many other projects including the development of a new project in Ranong called WARED but its key management role is finance. It claims support from many sources such as the CWI, RSPCA, IPPL, WWF and many more. The RSPCA sent staff there for experience and had nothing more to do with the establishment. The WWF made a donation but want no further association and have asked WARF to remove the link from their website. The CWI won't tell me anything and according to WARF the CWI still provide funds and expertise.
The Gibbon Rehabilitation Project in Phuket needs funding and never has enough. It gets money from volunteers who pay for the privilege. The GRP also receives funds for long stay visitors, tourists, merchandising, government funding, and all the usual trappings of tourism. All this money is managed by WARF who then send an allowance to the GRP to pay for food and medication etc. But no matter how much the GRP ask for they only get a portion. WARF does not have to publish figures, so they do not. An estimate by an employee at the GRP is that their financial generation is in excess of 1.5 million GBP whilst the allowance from WARF is about 200,000 GBP. Where does the rest of the money go?
WARED in Ranong has several projects going on one of which is to save the Andaman Sea Turtle. In 2009 they produced 3 baby turtles. To have any impact on conservation they need to produce around 30,000 because of its high mortality rate. Another is the Macaque & Bear Rescue Centre which obtained funding from the BUAV, an anti-vivisection organisation in the UK, to pay for cages and a compound to house 50 Japanese Macaque monkeys being evicted from a laboratory in the Chulalongkorn University. The construction work didn't happen and when the deadline passed the monkeys were destroyed. The BUAV continued to finance food requirements and veterinary fees and staff wages to look after the primates and then had a brainstorm idea of visiting to see the apes they were paying for. Fortunately WARF is well enough acquainted with government officials to be able to ask for help in a crisis and the Animal Confiscation Compound came to the rescue with enough Macaques to make it look like fifty. No one was any the wiser and apparently the BUAV is still funding these completely innocent and never experimented upon monkeys now leading a life of unmerited retirement. The BUAV must know about this but if they withdraw their support another 45 Macaques will have to be 'put down'.
WARF supports the Ayutthaya Elephant Camp in old Siam. There is nothing conservational nor welfare related in this purely commercial business venture. I have reservations about some of the claims of animal abuse at the camp but that doesn't placate the question of why? Why does the CWI boast about supporting these projects when they are all commercially viable ventures for a profiteering organisation that does not demonstrate where all this money is going and provides zero return in caring for the wild? WARF brags that this working elephant camp ensures the survival of the domesticated elephant. This animal is living wild in large numbers throught the country and is not under any threat of extinction. WARF is correct that the domestic version would die out if it wasn't maintained at places like Ayutthaya, and this is being maintained by Care for the Wild? Perhaps the CWI might consider supporting the Blackpool donkey rides? When you get into bed with organisations like this without any understanding of Thai methodology and without a mercenary attitude to finances you will find yourself involved in something you did not expect. They are all, and the CWI more so, guilty of not understanding or having any experience of Thailand and often the conservation issues they are trying to influence or change.
In this context all the ingredients are there for the CWI to make cataclysmically bad conclusions about any project or investigation. Mistakes do not happen for any single reason and a catalogue of errors occurred to cause this very badly made report about the tiger temple but it still needed a catalyst. The CWI couldn't create a whole 26 page report of pure unadulterated conjecture and despite receiving complaints about the temple they would not want to. Somewhere in there had to be an element of truth. And there was.
In 2002 the CWI received enough complaints from tourists about the temple for them to take notice. They claim the temple had 180,000 visitors that year so 6 complaints represents 0.0033% or one in every 30,000. This is an insignificant number and it represents a very high standard of customer satisfaction. That didn't stop the CWI asking the Director of National Parks to investigate and to remove the tigers. The DNP failed to act appropriately on the information and merely telephoned the temple to discuss the matter and took no further action. Subsequently a rumour started that the DNP confiscated the cats in 2002. Had either of them initiated a statistical analysis of the accusations they would not have taken the matter further because the numbers were comparable with any reputable western wildlife park.
In the following years there was a steady stream of similar complaints that the CWI were now cataloguing and obtaining statements directly from witnesses wherever possible. In their excitement at discovering their suspicions were being proven right they failed to put in place any kind of checks. This led to oversights and a failure to understand the data they were collating. On the Internet alone can be found numerous quotes attributed to different people that all originated from the CWI. Because complaints were made to different bodies who then passed the information on to the CWI there were occasions where the same person had used several pseudonyms to more than one animal protection organisation that when filtered down to the CWI, they failed to check if they already had this information source. There was also no check for language style or content and that led to plagiarism. Then there is several examples of stories from the general public who because of the content had clearly not been there at all and had read about it.
In 2005 the CWI received a letter of complaint from an ex-volunteer who made various inconsistent allegations that they chose to take seriously enough to call it the start of their investigation. Amongst the allegations were that the tigers have their teeth and claws removed. This would have been very easy to disprove and should have been the end of it. The second allegation was that the tigers are drugged and whilst it could have been discounted the CWI pursued it and wanted evidence. Their Bangkok satellite office was at that time managed by Guna Subramaniam who was not suitably qualified to run an investigation and all he could obtain was a string of people willing to tell all kinds of ripping yarns. These stories still pour out and an example is:
Trip Advisor "One tiger in particular that they had set up so you could get a photo of its head on your lap was so out of it they continually pulled it's head up by the chain and dropped it on to the tourist's lap." An adult tiger this heavily sedated would have to be anaesthetised with 12gm to 18gm of Sodium Pentobarbital or Ketamine. Enough to kill an adult human and calculated according to body weight, heartbeat, chest expansion, and blood count. It would require a skilled anaesthetist and constant monitoring. Any miscalculation would prove fatal beyond doubt. Not enough and the tiger would wake suddenly and attack, too much and he will not wake at all. The animal would have to be brought to the canyon on a stretcher and in temperatures above 35C would have difficulty breathing and would likely suffer heart failure. His breath would be strong, his tongue would be hanging out the side of his mouth and his eyes would be glazed and yet despite the witness's inability to provide an account with any accuracy the CWI decided to take it seriously.
In 2007 the CWI was given an unexpected breakthrough when Sybelle Foxcroft, a mature student from Melbourne studying for her masters in animal conservation, had discovered something that the temple considered inconsequential but to her was frightening. The tigers she was being introduced to were not who they should be. Her thesis drifted into one that merited a distinction for her sterling investigative work into why, and where were the missing cats, and where did these replacements come from. After returning home she wanted to do more than just submit her thesis for her degree and she discussed it with someone she knew in Thailand who recommended she contact the CWI in the UK who were known to have an interest in the temple. Ms. Foxcroft is not the kind of person to make a mistake and was able to prove beyond any doubt that some cats that can be seen in photos taken at the temple are no longer there. She is currently turning her experiences into a book with a working title of Behind the Cloak of Buddha. She also has a petition at The Petition Site and needs your votes if you care about tigers. But the information such an experienced conservationist could provide was exactly what the CWI needed.
Having spent five years trying to obtain proof the CWI had to get it right, and now they had the person they needed for so long and she was giving them all the information they needed, unfortunately it wasn't the information they wanted. They did not have proof of drugging for photo sessions or DNA samples that would prove the tigers were hybrid and not Indo-Chinese. Hardly relevant considering Ms. Foxcroft had proven the temple was voluntarily involved in illegal tiger trafficking but the CWI couldn't grasp the significance. They wanted evidence of dental extractions and de-clawing despite Ms. Foxcroft giving them evidence of other cruelties. The CWI was obsessed with proving their own suspicions right. If you want to know what happened next you should follow Sybelle Foxcroft's Facebook or look out for Behind the cloak of Buddha. A story of intrigue and conspiracy that reads more like a novel than real life. When the CWI decided to go to the DNP they had not completed their own report and because they considered it a matter of some urgency for the animals' welfare they sent the thesis as a pre-emptive report.
A spokesman for the DNP confirmed they did receive a report from the CWI in the UK in late October 2007. They held a meeting to discuss what to do with it and the decision was to visit the Tiger Temple to discuss it further with Abbot Pra Acharn. He also confirmed that the Abbot was shown the dossier and they discussed each point raised. I am waiting for confirmation from Guna Subramaniam as to what happened next. I wanted to ask the CWI, but they won't talk to me. What happened in fact was that the information was immediately recognisable to those who had worked with Sybelle Foxcroft in the tiger temple and her name became known to the DNP. Two scenarios would explain how this came to be. The person at the DNP that I spoke to was unable to say whether her name was on the header of the document but it would be reasonable to expect it to have been removed. Or was that also overlooked? Or the DNP asked the CWI for the authors name and they divulged what should have been unknown even to the CWI. I must stress, this is conjecture, and I have no proof of it but it would appear the CWI were willing to endanger the wellbeing of their investigator. Should the CWI contradict that claim then perhaps they can explain why they sent their formal complaint to the DNP while their investigator was inside the temple trying to obtain samples the CWI so desperately needed?
If the CWI cannot be trusted with your donations, information they receive, safe management of investigations, or accurate management of factual reports, then why should you believe them about the tiger temple? Far from not visiting the tiger temple it would be more beneficial to wild animal welfare in general if the public stopped donating to the CWI. Sybelle Foxcroft on the other hand is able to speak from experience and was the expert supplying information so if you have any questions go and ask her and forget about the CWI. Or better still, go and visit the Temple and look for yourself..