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“Buddhist Compassion” and “Animal Abuse” in Thailand’s Tiger Temple

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Abstract The Tiger Temple in Kanchanaburi province, western Thailand, is a popular tourist attraction, offering visitors a unique opportunity to interact closely with tigers. It presents itself as a “tiger sanctuary,” whose tigers have been tamed by nonviolent Buddhist methods. This claim has been disputed by visitors and animal welfare activists. This article confronts the Temple’s master narrative of “Buddhist compassion” with a counternarrative of “animal abuse” according to which, rather than being a “sanctuary” for tigers, the Temple in fact mistreats the animals and exploits them commercially. However, even as an animal welfare organization’s report confirmed the abuse of the tigers and called for their confiscation and for the suspension of their display to visitors, the Thai authorities granted the Temple permission to operate as a zoo. This decision highlights the profound contrast between Thai and Western-inspired international norms for the treatment of captive (wild) animals. The article examines the cultural roots of this contrast and argues that in their narrow focus on the Tiger Temple the critics have unwittingly missed the opportunity to use the Temple’s animal abuse as an instance of a wider problem in the perception and treatment of (wild) animals in Thailand.

Affiliations: 1: The Hebrew University of Jerusalem


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