Tiger Temple

My travel home from Doha afforded me the oppportunity of a stopover in Thailand. Keen to explore the Kanchanaburi region, very accessible from Bangkok, I booked a two day tour encompassing WWII POW sites, the Bridge over the River Kwai, rafting, some short nature treks, staying overnight on river cabins, a ride on an elephant, and a visit to  Wat Pa Luangta Bua Yanasampanno Forest Monastery, otherwise known as the Tiger Temple.

The tigers are in the care of an Abbott, and the temple offers the opportunity, for a small fee, to pet these felines and have your photo taken. For a larger fee an abbott will rest a tiger’s head on your lap. Whilst I am something of an adrenalin junkie, I’m also fond of keeping my balls on.

 The tigers are chained, placid, and the tourist operation is staged in a barren canyon, drawing criticism regarding the environment in which the tigers are kept, and speculation about why these predators are relatively docile. The monks deny the use of drugs to placate the tigers, explaining that training and communication, from birth, faciliate this intimate level of contact.

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It was incredible to be able to pet a tiger. Measured by my expectations, their coat is surprisingly coarse, and their paws massive. Unlike modern zoology, which strives to replicate the natural environment for animals kept in captivity, the tigers natural habitat is absent at Luangta Bua; rather, the animals are leashed all afternoon for the tourists, and may spend much of the rest of their time in small cages.  

The Monastery offers a unique experience for tourists, and it may soften views toward these beautiful animals, which have been hunted to near-extinction in Thailand. However the confined captivity, lack of natural habitat, and the monks’ near-domestication of the tigers, cast some aspersions on the merits of Luangta Bua. 

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