Today marks the 4th anniversary of the last tigers that were removed from Tiger Temple. The tigers were relocated to government facilities in front of a huge media audience, for many people there was hope that this would be a new beginning for the welfare of captive tigers across Thailand. However, four years on, it seems the same issues are still prevalent. Attractions based around tourist interaction opportunities, such as tiger selfies, are still a common sight. With new attractions still opening up around the country, there has been very little progression on the welfare situation for captive tigers.
It’s important to highlight the issues that the tigers faced during the move. Instead of the better life that many media outlets and global NGOs promised, the tigers were split over two facilities and moved into small barren and concrete cages with little to no enrichment. The physical stimuli or interaction with familiar keepers, tigers and familiar surroundings was gone. This complete change to their daily routine alongside the process of transporting the tigers, caused increased stress, which led to a significant decrease in both their physical and mental health. Many tigers were unable to recover from this, with only a third of the Temple tigers surviving to this day, despite the best efforts of the Department of National Parks (DNP).
From the 147 tigers originally relocated to facilities run by the DNP, only around 50 still survive. The improved life that was commonly envisioned by removing them from Tiger Temple, has not been achieved. However, efforts by For Tigers alongside organisation such as WFFT and Wildheart Foundation has given the surviving tigers, as well as the tigers already at the facilities, a hope of a better life in the future.
During the four years since the tigers were relocated, For Tigers has help fund the construction of 6 enclosures. In addition, enrichment items such as rope, coconuts and tyres (to create toys) have been provided, as well as carnivore supplement (hugely beneficial to the tigers’ overall health) and emergency donations of chicken and pork.
In 2019, For Tigers began the process of upgrading some of the older style concrete-floored cages. This has proceeded with a test run of one cage completed last November and added more species-specific inclusions such as high platforms, larger pond and sandpits. Since September 2019, an extra 20 enclosures across the two facilities (10 at each site) have been built, funded by the DNP themselves. To help the cash-strapped DNP create a species-specific environment, For Tigers funded the building of ponds and donated trees and grass for ten of these enclosures in one facility and funded ponds for four enclosures in the other.
As an organisation, we continue in our efforts to provide a better future for the effected tigers. Our efforts in raising money and advocating for improvements have been effective so far, but as another year passes, the memory of the tigers is slowly fading to the outside world. Although the tigers will never leave the DNP facilities, it is important to realise that what may seem like small changes to their environment makes a huge difference to their overall quality of life for each individual tiger.
Small additions such as higher platforms may not seem like much, but these platforms allow and encourage tigers to jump, using muscles that may have been made redundant by living in flat barren cages. The use of the 3D space increases the area in which the tigers can live, adding a level of complexity to their environment. The addition of sandpits, grass and trees provide relief from concrete floors through the use of such substrates as well as more natural surroundings. Softer substrates are beneficial for their paws and joints, and the trees we helped plant are perfect as extra-large scratching posts!
During the past four years, we have seen substantial improvements to both the welfare and health of the surviving tigers. Without your help this would have never been achieved. Our journey doesn’t stop here, we plan to continue to help improve the lives of the temple tigers and other captive tigers across Thailand. For this, we need your support more than ever. These tigers depend on people like us to champion their cause and to be their voices. Join us as we continue our efforts in helping Thailand’s captive tigers.
Finally, we remember our old friends. Rest in peace to all of the temple tigers who have passed during these four years.