Tiger Temple Interview: Dr Somchai

Tiger Temple Interview

David does the Tiger Temple…

I could start this post off with something all dramatic like, ‘Temple Tiger Eats East End Expat!’.

But I’m lazy. And lying is such a bother. So this is what you get instead…

When the Tiger Temple appeared in the news this week, I wrote: Thailand’s Tiger Temple Sues Conservationists.

The court case also prompted me to gather materials from a visit my buddy David made last November.

On David’s first trip to Thailand he stopped by the floating market, celebrated the Loi Krathong festival, and grinned through Bangkok’s fertility shrine (Chao Mae Tuptim). But David’s main objective was to play with tigers.

Yes, I did fill David in on a Tiger Temple thing or two. But like me, he hasn’t spent his life being dissuaded by others. He wants his experiences (within reason) firsthand.

So a few phone calls and a Khun Pissout later, David drove to Kanchanaburi and the Tiger Temple.

David Meets Dr. Somchai…

When sitting down to breakfast, David discovered Dr. Somchai, the head vet for the Tiger Temple.

David interviews Dr. Somchai…

David’s whole world is championing worthwhile causes. And as he needed to find out if the Tiger Temple was suitable (and not wanting to miss an opportunity), David asked Dr. Somchai for an impromptu interview.

Note: As you will soon see, no special equipment was used for the interview; it was off-the-cuff in more ways than one. And except for making the videos shorter to suit YouTube, I have not edited anything. They are as is (even the lens cleaning episode has been left in). Sadly, the first video corrupted so the interview starts off with vegetable soup…

The conversation is difficult to follow (in some places), so I transcribed what I could. If you can help out with some of the questionable areas, please do.

Video One: The beginning, Buddhism and tigers…

…to use vegetable soup.

When did the very first tiger come?

First tiger come is the border between Thailand and Burma. The border patrol police save a life and told me that the mother is killed and sold on the black market and this one have a suture material cut on the head and the teeth was done bleeding and the belly is (?) and the (?) ask me to come to help and then I come and come to see and then the first one is still alive, just only eight months old. Cause it’s too weakness and got pneumonia(?) Ok? And died. And that time we have dead tiger cubs of (?) Ok?

And so were you already a veterinarian here?

Yeah, I’m veterinarian.

At the tiger temple? At this temple?

The first here.

Yeah. Ok.

Because before I came here I worked with the animal hospital, belonged to Chulalongkorn University. Faculty of Vet Science.

Chulalongkorn University is the first university of the Kingdom of Siam. It’s the name of the King Chulalongkorn. King Rama V. The grandfather of the present king. At Siam Square. All the Siam Square, the Siam Centre is the asset of Chulalongkorn University. Siam Paragon, MBK, everywhere. Because King King Chulalongkorn donated his land to set up the first, the oldest university of the Kingdom of Siam.

So how does the raising of the tigers tie into your Buddhist beliefs?

I don’t understand your question.

How does the taking care of the tigers here at the temple, fit well with Buddhism?

Fit well with Buddhism, because why the first tiger cub came here, because the point is they believe in Buddhism. And they trust the Buddhist monk. Because they trust that the Buddhist monk is go on the way of Nikban which means to practice, meditation for (?), so they trust and believe.

And the second, they trust and believe that the lands of the temple is holy land. Is sanctuary land. And the point of reasons is means (?) love for all living things. So it (?) its mind. It not go on with (?) It not go on with mistake. It not go on with money. Ok? So they trust. Ok?

And the second, they trust the spirit of Buddhism. Ok? This means do the best that they can do. This is the trust and belief. And their faith that we’ll do the best for the tiger and for every animals.

And the three, number three reason is mean they trust their fate and their belief that the power of the Lord, the power of Dharma, the teaching of Lord Buddha, the power of Samkhan, the person following the foot prints of the Lord. And the powers of angels, will help, will support. Ok? So, they can survive in this land. So this is their trust and belief.

So that’s why, they donation here. One, they donation here, so they are propose money, ask me so I came here. And I have no idea about tiger before, because I’m studying that side is domestic animal, is dog, is cat, is fun animal, is cattle, is buffalo, is pig, is poultry, whatever. And wild animals, we study so many animals from the zoo. But specific to tiger is… no… no… so… come and learn.

Video Two: The beginnings, feeding the tigers…

Do you live here now at the grounds?

Yes, I live here, nearby here. But before, I set up Thai Wisdom Centre. Now Thai Wisdom Centre far from here about 5 kilometres. Before I set up Thai Wisdom Centre, I live here. And here, is nothing. No any building that you see today. Ok? The accommodation for the man volunteer, that over there used to be pavilion, used to be multi-use, everything. Just one building over there. And the good thing of the Abbot.

The big pavilion to there? Where you arrange food? That was just under construction at that time. No. Over there is everything, and when I came over there, I over there and the Abbot sent me to live here. And now it’s changed, it’s turned to be a, like a big cave. They used to be to keep the, whatever, the equipment and everything over there before.

And I sleep here. And the Abbot let me… ‘you can sleep anywhere that you like to sleep’. So I go tearing around. But please imagine no tourists, and no construction, is nothing. Ok? That time no collar, no chains. The monk, the tiger, play and run and come to play and I run with the tigers. Together, whatever. There’s nothing.

But, it’s a difficult situation. Because at that time, you know tigers eat a lot, and the Abbot has no money. Ok. Yes. We not a slave of money. But money is necessary material. Can change to be food, can change to be clothes, can change to be medicine, can change to be accommodation. But this is the way of thinking.

So is the biggest cost here food? For the tigers?

Yes. The main cost.

And it’s mainly chickens?

It costs four kilograms per day per one…

Forty kilograms…

Four kilograms per tiger.

Four kilograms per tiger. Of meat.

Of meat. Yeah.

Video Three: Tourism, money, donations…

Besides money, what other type of help do you need the most?

Nothing.

Nothing.

We’re relaxed. We start from nothing, and now…

So what is your main source of money?

The main source of the money, is first, I show you.

I mean do you, are you asking for donations? On your website?

No. No. It’s not this. The main thing is from tourism.

So through tourism? How about…

From tourism.

How about, cause I would think, as a strategist, cause this is what I do…

Ok.

I’m thinking. Yeah, someone like me comes this morning and helps invest in the Tiger Temple by paying the fee to be one of those people who spent the morning. I loved it. It was fantastic. But a lot of people can never come this far. They just won’t come all the way to Thailand. They may care about tigers, but they may live in south America and they just can’t come. So, how can they help? I would think the website…

You can help a lot…

I would think the website would have a way of having donations online…

But at this moment, the main thing is from tourism. Because tourism is very rare. Because if you don’t understand, so, you don’t want to donation. You must have a little bit. Learn some information and understand a little bit. Because they would like to make sure, that, ok, ‘where your money go’. Ok, now is the digital world. The digital world have so many way of thinking. Ok? So some miss point, misunderstanding. So they scared. Ok? They will ask you question, ‘where your money go’? Ok?

So this…

‘Where your money go’. And then I will tell you.

So you’ve created this new…

This is the…

…website to explain to them to explain where the money…

We have website, we have website, we have so many website. Ok? And this is ‘where your money go’. First, it mean we pay money for tiger boy, tiger girl. What is tiger boy, tiger girl? Tiger boy, tiger girl is the local people. They earn their living from Tiger Temple. Because before Tiger Temple set up and have money to hire them, they have nothing to do. Because in Kanchanaburi just to make agricultural products is tapioca, is sugar cane. Harvest time is once a year. So from that, no money. Ok? Ok? And nothing for them to do.

So this, by the name of tiger boy, tiger girl, is mean the local people to work with us and we pay money for them and they do souvenir, and they work start from 7 o’clock and until the evening. Ok? So this is they earn money, and good for the community.

Nearly a hundred local people work with us now. You see? This is the cost to pay for the local people. But I think it’s good for Tiger Temple. And good for the community. It means win win situation. Together. And the second now not far from here I will bring you to see this if you have a chance. This is like a cooperative. We set up with a leader of the community to set up the, to make a brick, a block, for Tiger Temple. Ok, you see this, all kinds of brick of block…

Ok, so the bricks of the new building are locally made?

Yes.

Ok.

Not far from here. Like a community system. For the local people be a share holder. And tiger boy, tiger girl on our staff is a share holder of this. So they (?) them to participate. And they enjoy, and they earn a living at the same time. They think this is my project.

So the tiger… the young people, the tiger boys and tiger girls who work here…

They shareholder…

They are also shareholders in this?

Yes, yes.

Oh. Brilliant.

And the local people are surrounding is a shareholder. Ok? So. And the leader, of the community, is a shareholder. Even me, their boss give me a shareholder. It’s a small. But nothing is small or big. But think that is spirit and mind.

So tell me Dr. Somchai, are you looking for people to invest. Would, would you like to, would it be helpful if people lent money? From afar away? As well as donating?

I think it’s, uh, everything go on by cash. We don’t lend, we don’t lease. But everything go on by cash. The best way is no debt. There is no debt.

So you don’t want loans.

No.

You just want donations.

No. Don’t want any loans. (?) by cash money.

Ok.

If we have, we do. If no? We maintain. Ok? So this is the second one. You see we (?) the (?). And then, number three, now we have a three waterfalls. You see? This location. One. And the big one. And the small one. They have a cub this morning and (?) one kilogram, the new born cub.

Video Four: Treatment of tigers…

Dr. Somchai, I’d like to just dwell on the, on the, how the tigers are treated. In summary. So you’ve described to me how the tigers get regular, get regular health checks. The tigers are very tame and some people think, the tigers couldn’t be so tame if they weren’t drugged, or something like that. So what’s the truth about that?

Ok. Show picture is the best way.

Is there anything. Do you, do anything to the tigers to help make them more friendly to the humans? The visitors?

Easy to answer. I will answer.

Ok.

So you know because tigers here, take care by human beings first. Ok? When they’re born, you take care them first. Ok? And the tigers here mostly, they used to human beings. Ok? Once born, we can go inside. To help building patronage, they trust you. Because, you are with them. Ok? Every day. Ok, first, the image of human being by the tiger side.

Video Five: Drugging the tigers…

Some, they have their, make reasons, their mind already.

So you were giving vaccinations to the tigers, in the canyon?

Six vaccinations. And used to I show you.

You used to do it in public…

But not any more…

People… people… people saw this and thought, ‘maybe that’s when they drugged the tigers’.

Drugs and something to antidote. Something to wake them.

Oh, an antidote to wake them up.

Yes. Yes.

Ok. And so, you tried to show these people the vials?

They, they, they don’t want to see.

Because the vials say it’s a vaccine?

(?) Vaccine.

Volunteer: Even if they saw it they probably would say that, ‘oh yeah, you show me a vial that says the, the, you know, the vaccine name. But what you put in?’

Oh yeah, ok. Great.

Volunteer: You know, you can say whatever they want.

Yeah. Ok? Because they close. They don’t open.

Well, every mind can be opened. I don’t…

But some, you know, this is the world. The world is the world.

Yes.

What’s next with the Tiger Temple…

After David left Thailand for his next assignment, I decided to check out the morning session with the tigers too. Next week sometime (when I have a minute), I will write about my experience.

I want to point out (again) that I am not a vet, nor have I had extensive training with tigers. But I was there, watching. And (for whatever it is worth) I have formed my own opinion.

Tiger Temple resources…

I’ve placed the majority of the tiger resources in my previous post. The below are Tiger Temple specific:

♥ Please report BROKEN LINKS via the contact page.

14 Responses to “ Tiger Temple Interview: Dr Somchai ”

  1. Great piece Cat. I’m left with a lot of questions though. The first is the fact that Dr. Somachai keeps playing down tourism part of the sanctuary stating that it is “rare”. Obviously tourism to the sanctuary isn’t rare as this is a popular destination for tourists. And I’m sure other than the admittance fee that a good majority of tourists also make donations.

    The second question is one that should concern a lot of people. The average Asian tiger eats between 40-70 pounds of food a day and yet Dr. Somachai stated they feed each tiger 4 kilo’s of chicken a day which he reiterated when David asked if he meant 40 kilo. Is it possible he really did mean 40 kilo or are they really not feeding the tigers properly?

    The next thing that is a problem for me is the fact that they are actively breeding tigers. I wouldn’t have a problem with this if it were in a setting like the Friends of Asian Elephants where they are actively trying to help save the species and the elephants aren’t a tourist attraction. It would be one thing if they only had tigers there that were abandoned by their mothers or some similar incident but it seems they are actively sustaining a tourist attraction instead of their efforts going towards conservation.

    I haven’t been to the tiger sanctuary yet but this piece has opened my eyes and I’m not so sure I want to take part in this attraction now.

    If they are breeding tigers and only feeding them 4 kilos a day eventually they will have a bad tiger and someone will get hurt or killed.

  2. Hi Talen, I think what Dr Somchai means by rare is the type of place it is. Nowhere else can you bath and shampoo tigers, etc.

    40 kilos – 4 kilos: I’ve read that tigers in the wild will eat around 40 kilos at one time, but then they won’t eat again for days.

    Captive tigers don’t need to eat as much as they are fed daily. At the Tiger Temple, they are also given vitamins and minerals in addition to the cooked chicken.

    I googled and came up with the figure of (up to) 10 pounds in captivity – 4 kilos is 8.8 pounds. So Dr Somchai’s figure is in the correct range.

    http://www.zooschool.ecsd.net/Tiger.htm

    I have (potential) problems with their breeding program. All come from the reports, so…

    1) They are not adding to the tiger gene pool.
    2) In the reports they say the tigers are being sold off.
    3) The temple mentions a future plan of releasing their tigers back into the wild, but does Thailand have that much of a wilderness? And if the tigers are not being bred properly, will they mess with the existing gene pool?

    The morning program is quite an experience. The tigers are alert and seemingly healthy (note: I am not a vet). The reports say that nothing is being done to improve the situation for the tigers, but I saw quite a bit of difference between my two visits.

  3. Catherine an interesting piece and one which still places me in the belief that the tigers are probably not drugged.

    It’s good that the Temple does not seek loans and only wants donations as I think this makes those involved work a whole damn harder to keep the show on the road.

    I think Dr Somchai probably meant 40 kilos (88 lbs.) of chicken but spat it out wrong. The tigers in your videos look lively enough and from my visit when on display their were plenty of workers about watching their every move. I think that fact points to the tigers probably not having been drugged.

  4. Martyn, The tigers could have been drugged at one time, but no longer (?) In the report, it states that they do not believe the tigers were drugged.

    My first trip was during the afternoon, out in the hot sun. When the tigers were posed with tourists for photo shots, they responded like floppy dolls. The tigers couldn’t even hold their heads up.

    Of course, my opinion that the tigers were drugged is not actual fact, but just the feeling I got from watching them.

    My second trip was during the morning session, where the temple restricts the number of visitors. The tigers were alert, playful (mostly between themselves), and full of energy.

    The tigers were not overly hungry either. When the people in my group fed them, the tigers gently licked cooked chicken from open hands.

    And you can see a tiger doing just this photo: Tiger Temple: Feeding Tigers

    For the loans… (I could be wrong) but I also got that Dr. Somchai wanted most of all to keep everything on a cash basis.

  5. Catherine I’ve never been into drugs and I’m sure you have not either however….I looked at your photo link and you can clearly see the tigers eyes or pupils I believe would be more to my point. Would the photo give any indication to whether the tiger was drugged or not. The eyes look pretty clear and sharp to me. Have a look yourself.

  6. Martyn, that photo was from the morning session (which I don’t have a query about). In the morning the tigers were fabulously active.

    The afternoon session was where I saw tigers lolling around like lethargic, fur covered sacks. I have photos around here somewhere (I will dig them out later).

    But you attended the afternoon session years later, and had a totally totally different experience… so, who really knows for sure?

  7. Cat, I still believe that 10 pounds is no where near enough for a captive tiger…and this may be the reason they are lethargic in the afternoon. I’ve talked to handlers at a local zoo at tiger feeding time and they were fed 30 pounds of meat a day there. Hell all my cats do are sleep all day but they still eat like crazy.

  8. Talen, what kinds of tigers were they? Not that my knowing would make a difference but it might to someone who knows.

    You are saying ‘local zoo’. So is are the tigers being kept in cold conditions where you are? That also might make a difference in how much they consume.

    Btw – sorry to hear about you being under 30 inches of snow. If I were there, I would need a fur coat for sure ;-)

  9. Thanks for posting what I have found to be the only attempt at an unbiased assessment of the situation.

  10. You are welcome Curt. This is a subject that interests me, as I have many unanswered questions. Perhaps Dr. Somchai would be up for a second interview (but not impromptu).

  11. There have been many bad reports about the Tiger temple in recent years. I have been there once and felt the tigers are not really treated properly… they were made to be like kittens which is not what tigers are meant to be in my opinion. Unfortunately some of the places that were started to help animals or humans here in Thailand do not serve their original purpose anymore.

  12. Hi Jo. There are a certainly a lot of unanswered questions about the temple. But as they’ve received permission to have a zoo, I assume the Thai government has looked into the matter? Do you know if the report is available to the general public?

  13. Cat, the tigers at the local Zoo are Bengal tigers I believe and yes they do get the full range of seasons which may have something to do with the feedings.

  14. Talen, Bengals would eat more than some other tigers (I so do not know!) Tracking down a tiger expert is definitely on my list of people to talk to. The Singapore zoo might be the place to ask (and it’s close).

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