Of all the animals in the world, probably the last one I’d ever expect to get close to would be a tiger. Yet the photo proves it happened:
I visited the Tiger Temple in Thailand years ago with an American friend I met in Korea. He and I were both in Bangkok at the same time and we decided to take a tour of some nearby attractions together.
We hadn’t intended to visit the monastery-slash-tiger attraction. Other tourists had warned us that the tigers must be drugged; why else would they all be so lazy and lethargic? But we had way too much to drink the night before, slept in, and missed our tour bus. Not willing to lose all our money, we joined a later tour that was heading to the Tiger Temple.
Being a monastery, I couldn’t look the monks in the eyes, lest I offend them. I was also forced to buy a souvenir T-shirt because mine had some red on it, which they said might anger the animals. And there were the tigers. The tigers were kept on chain leashes. If they were moving at all, they meandered slowly on the paved grounds. Most just lay down as a line of tourists passed through to pose for pictures.
“Baby dolphin dies after tourists yank it out of ocean for selfies” the headline read. The story came from Argentina, where tourists at a resort in Buenos Aires plucked a small dolphin out of the water for photos. The dolphin couldn’t handle being out of the water for so long and died of dehydration. There was no reason for that animal to be out of the water, and no reason for it to die.
Every summer there are stories out of Yellowstone National Park, USA about bison goring tourists, who had their backs turned and were standing far too close. (Park rangers advise people to stay at least 25 yards or 23 metres away from these 2000-pound beasts.)
Tourists have a long history of posing with wild animals for the sake of a photo. But at what cost?
“I don’t think anyone intended to harm the animal,” Neil D’Cruze, who works for the World Animal Protection organization out of the UK, told National Geographic after the dolphin incident, “but the excitement and thrill drew people in. It shows that interaction with a wild animal in its habitat can be just as terrible and deadly as having these animals in captivity.”
One of the worst captivity cases is the Tiger Temple in Thailand. According to their own website, they received the first tiger cub in 1999 and now the number of tigers exceeds 160. Allegations of abuse have been coming since it was created.
But there is good news. According to USA Today, the site is finally closing. Wildlife officers have removed 10 tigers since the end of January, and the plan is to keep removing five more each month until they’ve all been resettled into government-run shelters.
Maybe this is the beginning. It's time for us to recognize the danger we are putting ourselves and these animals in, all just for an Instagram-worthy photo, and put an end to it.