Thailand Buddhist Temple Tigers
I’m going to make the argument that it is a deadly serious responsibility. One that most of us ignore (the root of the word ignorant).
Why should it surprise any of us that any tourist venues (and the Buddhist Temple resplendent with tigers was just that) that have us interact with animals in what appears to be an unnatural way is a form of exploitation. When we participate in this charade, we endorse it. It becomes our personal brand.
I remember as a kid my folks took my sister and I on a station wagon vacation. These types of vacations were the norm for my family so it wasn’t until my 16th birthday that I first rode in an airplane. My Dad drove us everywhere, but that is a meaty story for another day.
It was the summer of 1964 and our family began a cross country trek from our home in New Jersey to Yellowstone National Park. Mom and Dad were not the adventurous type and I don’t remember doing any REAL hiking in the park. On the contrary, my experience in the park was restricted to boardwalk pedestrian access to hot springs, photo oportunities and point of interest.
The highlight for me, the nine year old, was certainly the bear jams. A bear or a mother bear and her cubs took up a begging position on a main road and everyone filed out of the car to feed the begging animals candy, cookies or chips. When the ranger finally arrived and forced everyone to leave (because we were all in some danger, being inches away from a wild animal) the bear jam dispersed and everyone piled back in their cars seeking the next jam a mile or so up the road.
No one mentioned the danger TO the poor bear. No one said it was unnatural and unhealthy for a bear to become habituated to people, reliant on hand-outs for food and, worse still, nourished on a diet of human junk food.
Ten years later and the bears were gone. The National Park Service began to really crack down on tourists who stopped and fed bears. It closed the dumps in the park where bears congregated for easy food and installed bear-proof trash cans everywhere in the park.
Today, there may be an occasional bear jam but it is when a brownie or grizzly is spotted hundreds of yards away moving in its natural habitat. When you visit Yellowstone today, your brand is that of an unspoiled naturalist. Good for everyone. Including the bears.
But, as I scan Facebook for the comings and goings of friends and friends of friends, I can’t tell you how many, otherwise smart people, go to swim with the dolphins and think the animals are perfectly happy to haul humans around on their dorsal fins. My God. Watch The Cove and see just how these animals are captured and the amount of tranquilizers they must be fed to keep them docile and only a little crazy.
Outrage over the movie Black Fish has pressured Sea World to change its focus on Shamu (at least a little bit of change) and Ringling Brothers has retired its elephants.
How ignorant can we be?
But we are surprised that the Buddhist Temple tigers in Thailand, which has become de rigueur for Bangkok tourists who pay $100 to have their picture made with adult Tigers, is natural? What is it about these Buddhist monks that makes these solitary uber-predators docile? That’s easy. It’s called mistreatment. Tigers don’t care about your philosophy, vegetarian diet or religion. They don’t even care if you practice non-violence. Tigers are tigers.
They need our protection not domestication. Its easy to recognize that something terrible is actually going on.
So when you visit a dolphin enclosure, the Buddhist Temple Tigers, a circus (with trained lions and tigers) or a Sea World-type park, your brand is not innocent tourist. Your brand is exploitative human. Selfish and ignorant.