Thailand’s Buddhist monks have found a remarkable way to feed the tigers without becoming part of the menu. The devoted monks of Tiger Temple have been living with the wild jungle cats since they adopted an abandoned cub in 1999 after it was brought to the temple by local villagers. Today, the number of tigers living on the temple grounds has risen to over 100, and it is not uncommon to see a full grown tiger sharing a meal with a monk or walking along calmly on a leash.
The Theravada Buddhist monks live in a remote forest temple in the Saiyok district of Thailand’s Kanchanaburi province, a short distance from the border of Myanmar. The magnificent animals are believed to be Indochinese tigers, but, due to the remoteness of the temple and the lack of available funds, DNA testing to determine the exact bloodline of the cats has never been done.
The monks believe the tigers are reincarnations of past generations of Theravada Buddhists, and they consider the animals sacred. The cats reach 350 to 450 pounds in body weight in adulthood, and they are fierce predators in the wild. However, the tigers living at the temple roam freely about the grounds and even interact with the tourists who come to visit. The seemingly docile cats share meals with the monks, pad the trails of the surrounding forest, and lounge on the cool rocks to escape the heat of the midday sun.
As the legend of the tame tigers became known, people started bringing other animals to the monks. Today, the temple is something of an animal sanctuary, operating quietly far from civilization. In addition to the tigers, visitors may see camels, deer, water buffalo, and gibbon monkeys going about their lives in the soothing confines of temple and the surrounding forest.
While the monks worship the tigers as revered predecessors and the tourists thrill to be photographed with the almost friendly carnivores, not everyone is happy with the arrangement.
Wildlife experts have expressed their displeasure over the tigers living in close contact with humans. They are not happy with the idea of domesticating wild creatures, and they are worried about the safety of the monks and the visitors to the temple. Tigers are unpredictable at best and quite capable of killing or severely maiming a human being.
Animal conservation specialists are concerned about the unsupervised breeding of the tigers, which they feel is diluting the bloodlines of the endangered Indochinese tiger. Recently, the monks were discovered to have exchanged tigers with a tiger farm in Laos. The trade violated several international laws and created the possibility of further dilution of pure strains of both Indochinese and Laotian tigers.
Many people find the image of a fearsome jungle tiger eating from a monk’s rice bowl to be quaint and charming, but animal rights activists remind us that these are wild animals that should be roaming through the jungle free, hunting at will, and killing their own food instead of putting on a dog and pony show for the tourists.
The Inquisitr would like to hear your opinion. Is this simply an unusual case of a few devout Buddhist monks living in harmony with nature and the spirits of their ancestors or does this activity do more harm than good? What do you think?
[Image courtesy of Wojtekkalka]