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Our Love for Animals Doesn't Have To Lead to Their Loss... But Often Does.

Our Love for Animals Doesn't Have To Lead to Their Loss... But Often Does.

Photo by Okras (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0]

We’re fascinated by animals, especially when they're wild. We want to see them up close, touch them, understand them. Unfortunately, we don't realize that our feelings can be a source of greed for some.

Take Thailand: for years that favorite exotic spot for Western tourists has been a center of illegal wildlife trade. Tiger Temple is one of those tourists spots where people love to see animals up close. There, you can pet, feed, bathe and walk the wild cats on leashes, as well as pose for pictures with them. What's in it for the temple? An estimated three million dollars a year. But Tiger Temple, formally known as Wat Pa Luangta Bua Yannasampanno, has been accused of 15 years of animal abuse and illegal trade. Conservation organizations and former employees have long accused the monks of keeping the tigers in jail-like cages, improperly feeding them and physically abusing them. The monks are also being accused of trafficking endangered species.

A few weeks ago, the authorities of Thailand raided the temple in order to save all 137 tigers held there. Adisorn Nuchdumrong, the wildlife department's deputy director, admitted that they were all shocked by what they discovered. Inside an industrial-size freezer, they found the bodies of 40 baby tigers, from one to seven days old. They also found jars filled with cubs and arrested a monk trying to leave the temple with two tiger skins in his car, 10 tiger teeth, and about a thousand amulets that contained small pieces of tiger skin. Other pending cases against the temple include unlawful possession of six Asian black bears and 38 rare hornbills and other birds which were seized by federal wildlife officials in 2015, and other animals who disappeared before officials arrived to seize them.                

In her article for National Geographic, Sharon Guynup writes that

government officials have been under increasing pressure to shut down the tourist attraction and remove the tigers. That has been a complex task, in part because the temple is a popular tourist attraction and because legal intervention at the temple is a sensitive issue in a devout Buddhist nation.

One of the ZOOs in Poland, Photo source:

But this is not just a problem in this exotic country far far away. It’s everywhere. Every major city has a zoo, operating under the guise of educating people about animals and wildlife, or even conserving endangered species. The effect of zoos is that animals are kept prisoners, bred in an environment far from natural, surrounded by city noises, and exposed to loud tourists and often laughter from visitors. Instead of getting to know and understand the wildlife, visitors get a false image of apathetic, trapped animals and the animals, instead of having that wild life, fall into depression and suffer in poor conditions.             

The recent incidents of deaths of both human and non-humans at zoos and resorts, like the shooting of Harambe the gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo and the gator attack at the Disney World resort in Florida just a few days ago, should help us question even more the utility of keeping wild animals for human pleasure. Even more controversial are parks where, on top of being kept prisoners in much smaller spaces than their natural habitat and all the pain that comes with it, wild animals are forced to do tricks, like the already infamous Sea World in San Diego and Marineland in Antibes.

Photo from "Blackfish" movie

What can we do? Boycott places that use and abuse animals. Is there an alternative if we want to see animals up close? Fortunately, yes: sanctuaries. Sanctuaries are places where animals are saved from abuse, slaughterhouses, zoos, circuses, from all those places that profit from animals. Wherever there is profit, there is a high risk of abuse. Sanctuaries keep animals safe from human exploitation and are a moving witness of how our society uses animals. Each animal at a sanctuary has a story to tell the visitor: how they came to life, how they were raised, what abuse they fell victim to and how they would have been killed if they hadn't been saved by the sanctuary.

Back to our Tiger Temple story: Soochaphong Boonserm, the Tiger Temple's former pro bono legal adviser, alleged that the temple's abbot has used funds raised through donations and tourist fees to build tiger temples in Germany, the Czech Republic and Australia. The wildlife department granted a five-year zoo license to the new Tiger Temple Company Ltd., the entity the temple created last year. The license means that the Tiger Temple Company might be able to buy back up to 50 of the seized tigers. A zoo license also would allow the temple's new business to legally breed tigers.

As Sharon Guynup writes in her article,

There is another possible ending to this story. The 137 tigers, plus the 10 the government removed from the temple earlier this year, could live out the rest of their days in a large sanctuary that would be financed and built by Four Paws, an organization based in Vienna, Austria, on land leased from the government. Four Paws has created humane wildlife sanctuaries in South Africa, Jordan, Germany, and other countries, complete with wildlife hospitals and educational facilities.

We need to ask ourselves if our love for animals is really love or a selfish fascination that needs to be transformed into real, compassionate love. We have the power to change things by deciding where to give our money or our time. If we want to get to know animals better, let’s look around and find the closest sanctuary. They’re always in need of volunteers or funds.             

Source: buddhism/




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