When 40 Tiger Cubs Are Found Frozen, Who’s to Blame?

Dario Pignatelli / Stringer

Rows of frozen tiger cubs were displayed on a blue blanket at a Buddhist temple west of Bangkok, Thailand this week. It’s hard to read the emotion of the onlookers in the photo — a mix of wildlife authorities, police officials, and photographers — because surgical masks cover half their faces. But I can only imagine they wish the scene was different.

Conservationists and animal rights activists have long accused the temple, a Buddhist monastery that offered paying tourists close contact with tigers, of exploiting and abusing the animals. But the temple denied these allegations and even blocked attempts to inspect the tigers they kept. The abbot of the temple, Venerable Phusit Khantitharo, calls the temple a “tiger sanctuary” — a place where he can care for abandoned tiger cubs.

In 2006, Christian Science Monitor contributor Tibor Krausz visited the temple and talked to Phusit. He described Phusit as a “Dr. Doolittle of sorts, treating and feeding a variety of injured wild animals and abandoned pets brought to his care.” Phusit apparently cared for twin tigers after their mother was poached near the Thai-Burmese border.

But it’s hard to imagine Dr. Doolittle would save rows of frozen cubs.

The gruesome discovery came as Thai wildlife rangers were removing adult tigers from the temple. For years, the Thai government has received complaints that the temple illegally breeds tigers. Visitors who are allowed to take selfies with the more than 100 tigers at the temple and bottle-feed their cubs, have also said the cats appear drugged.

According to the New York Times, representatives of the temple said Thailand’s Wildlife Conservation Office had been notified of all the cubs’ births and deaths and that the bodies were kept as proof that none of them were sold on the black market. But wildlife officials said only one of the dead cubs had been reported, and others doubt that the frozen cubs weren’t destined to be sold.

Debbie Banks, a campaign leader on tigers and wildlife crime for the London-based Environmental Investigative Agency, told the Times that tiger cubs are sold in large jars of wine, either on their own or with bear paws, snakes, and scorpions. Some people believe “wildlife wine” provides a health benefit. Others will buy the frozen cubs believing their meat and bones has a medicinal value.

“Forty frozen tiger cubs?” she asked. “Why would you keep them? When we know there is a market for frozen tiger cubs, it raises a lot of issues. I think it suggests something far more sinister.”

Although many Westerners may look to Buddhism as the environmental antithesis to capitalism and greed, not all Buddhists are environmentalists. The Buddhists of Mes Aynak in Afghanistan mined copper and burned huge quantities of wood. They deforested the landscape, polluted the air and water, and reduced the water supply. They were Buddhists who didn’t care about the environment.

But that doesn’t mean the Buddhists of the tiger temple in Thailand didn’t care about the tigers in their protection. There is no real evidence they engaged in animal trafficking or abuse. There is only the presumption that something was amiss. The rows of frozen cubs only further sows the seeds of suspicion.

The real villains in this story are the poachers who killed the tigress and the idiots who believe an endangered species’ bones and meat will cure their ills. If not for them, there would be no need for the sanctuary and no suspicion about the temple’s motives. It is their selfishness that put those forty cubs on the blue blanket.

Instead of fighting the Thai wildlife authorities’ decision to take the tigers, I hope the temple fights the people who really created this problem. I hope these Buddhists seek the truth.

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About the Author

I’m an organic-eating, energy-saving naturalist who composts and tree hugs in her spare time. I have a background in environmental law, lobbying, and field work. I believe in God; however, I do not call myself a Christian or a Jew or a member of any religion. I am merely someone who finds a spiritual connection to all humans and the environment. You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, and .