Up Close and Personal With Tigers in Thailand

By: Stuart Cheese

In my capacity as the UK Director of Operations for One World Tours Limited, I have the good fortune to experience many weird and wonderful things in order to ensure every client has the best tour possible. Here is my experience of the tiger temple in Thailand.
Firstly I should explain a little about the Tiger temple and the wonderful job that the monks and their volunteers do to create a safe haven for a wide range of animals to live in harmony in their beautiful surroundings.
This Buddhist monastery was established in the forest in the Saiyok district of Thailand in 1999 by the Abbot Phra Acharn Phusit Khantitharo.

This Abbots passion for animals soon saw him taking in injured animals or unwanted pets. It all began with an injured wild boar and some wild peacocks.
It wasn't long before a variety of other animals began seeking refuge at the monastery and animals such as water buffalo, horses, cattle and different species of deer began roaming the area.
Early on in 1999 the very first tigers turned up, 2 healthy male cubs, that needed some compassion as there mother had been slaughtered by some poachers.
Shortly after some local villagers took 2 more orphaned male cubs looking for sanctuary to the monastery. Local border police added 4 female cubs to the collection that they had intercepted from poachers that were holding them. This made a happy balance for the young cubs.

The Abbot and the monks of the temple had had no previous experience of how to handle these exotic creatures and learned all that they know as they went along. It would appear that the monks learned well and was perfect for the animals as this is greatly reflected in how healthy and happy the big cats appear. It is also reflected in the fact that when these beautiful creatures matured they produced five new litters between them.

The Abbot soon realised that with so many tigers his few monks would not cope without the help of some local staff and volunteers. As word of the monastery spread across the world it has drawn much attention to the plight and suffering of these unique and beautiful animals and has helped to promote the cause of nature conservation.

The temple is also unique in the way that it encourages, well supervised human interaction with the tigers. After making sure that a few basic rules are adhered to you are escorted to a sleeping and hopefully well-fed tiger. You are then instructed to sit on the floor with the magnificent creature and the staff rest its massive sleepy head onto your lap. In supporting this heavy head, my thumb slipped between the folds of its mouth and rested on one of the tigers' teeth. I remember the thrill of feeling the tigers tooth on my thumb and the honour of having tiger saliva in my hand!

The staff took some photographs and led me to another couple of tigers that were laying on some rocks and took some more pictures. Behind me were even more tigers frolicking in the cool water pool I wanted some video footage of them but was told whilst I could not just walk up to them a staff member would get the film I wanted instead. I can honestly say that I was not in the least bit apprehensive about being amongst these incredible beasts and the whole atmosphere seemed very calm and peaceful.
On one occasion one of the animals roared as it play fought with its mate and started to run towards the area that everyone was sitting. Two members of staff stood before it and crossed their long wooden sticks in front of it and this motion was enough to deter its frolicking and send it back into the water. I felt very privileged to be so close to these spectacular creatures.

Much to the Abbots sadness the tigers still have to be caged for most of the time until they can be given more freedom. There are 12 acres of natural forest land in the temple grounds that have been designated for the re-homing of the tigers and this is currently in the process of being made a reality.

Anyone can take part in helping this dream to become a reality by making a donation to this worthwhile cause.
I do wonder if eventually these animals will no longer have the same public interaction with the tigers when they have their proper "island" in the grounds as proposed. If this is the case and the population of these awesome animals continues to decrease in the wild then I am truly lucky to have had this amazing experience.

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