What are the ethical issues behind keeping tigers as pets?

The case of the 'Tiger Temple' in Thailand is riddled with the ethical and moral issues that come with exotic animal confinement and abuse. 

Wildlife officials carry a sedated tiger on a stretcher at the 'Tiger Temple' in Saiyok district in Kanchanaburi province, west of Bangkok, Thailand. Wildlife officials in Thailand on Monday began removing some of the 137 tigers held at a Buddhist temple following accusations that the monks were involved in illegal breeding and trafficking of the animals. On Wednesday, 40 dead baby tigers were found in a freezer at the temple.

As more details surrounding the tigers kept at a Thai Buddhist temple emerge, global alarms around issues of animal abuse and wildlife trafficking continue to heighten.

Thai wildlife authorities raided the temple on Monday and by Wednesday evening had removed 64 more tigers. Authorities hope to remove an additional 70 tigers by Saturday. The temple, which houses more than 130 tigers, has faced critical suspicion over claims that the animals are kept under the influence of sedative drugs.

In a gruesome twist, 40 tiger cubs were found dead in a temple freezer on Wednesday. Thai officials have made it clear that "Tiger Temple" has to go.

Tiger Temple is a tourist attraction in the Kanchanaburi province west of Bangkok that attracts visitors to play with the tigers. Visitors take selfies with the tigers and bottle-feed the cubs. While the Buddhist temple might have seemed to be a "sanctuary" for the tigers, as it had promoted itself, that appears to have been a flimsy veneer hiding what some say is a bastion of animal abuse. The temple has denied accusations that the monks have been illegally breeding tigers for sale on the black market.

A handful of nongovernmental organizations including Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand (WFFT) are working with authorities to confiscate all the temple's animals. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) have called on tourists to stop visiting animal attractions at home in their own countries or abroad.

The discovery Wednesday of the dead tiger cubs in Thailand adds to a global debate swirling over the best conservation practices for wildlife. That debate was further heightened this week when Harambe, a 400-pound silverback gorilla was shot and killed at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden to protect a little boy who fell into the animal's enclosure, Henry Gass reported for The Christian Science Monitor.

A shifting understanding in the United States about the needs of individual animals, stoked by documentaries such as “An Apology for Elephants” and “Blackfish,” have caused organizations such as Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus and SeaWorld to back away from showcasing large mammals as entertainment. Wildlife poaching, meanwhile, has become a cause du jour for celebrities and governments.

Some exotic pet owners say that they are motivated by the desire to preserve the species population or to attempt to domesticate a wild animal to become like a cat or dog.

"While this is a nice thought, people who purchase exotic animals are doing so for themselves, not because they wish to benefit the wild species as a whole," states One Green Planet, an animal rights website. "Most exotic animals who are kept as pets never learn how to survive in the wild, therefore making it impossible for them to ever be released to join wild populations."

In addition, the process of domesticating an animal takes thousands of years, states One Green Planet. Dogs are believed to have been domesticated at least 30,000 years ago, and it is estimated that cats took at least 5,000 years to domesticate.

"Ignorance breeds misery," says a statement by PETA. Keeping exotic animals as pets can lead to disease, malnutrition, and lashing out. Animals who do survive the journey into captivity often die prematurely, says PETA, and suffer from loneliness and overwhelming stress caused by confinement in an unnatural, uncomfortable environment.

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