Then the monks and tigers disappeared. Not long after, the crowd was led down a canyon to a deserted gravel quarry. All the tigers - the same cats from the walk who only moments ago were lively and pissing on trees - were lying flat and lifeless, chained to the ground so they couldn't stand up.
Before I realized what was happening, I got shuffled along to have my picture taken with a tiger. "Did you drug these tigers?" I asked, incensed. I started arguing with the monks in front of a busload of tourists. A group of Californians joined in, shouting, "They're obviously drugged. Look at 'em, they're half-dead." The monks and their minions, with barely concealed hostility, insisted that the cats get sleepy because it's so hot.
I've volunteered in sanctuaries around the world, from tending lions, baboons and other wildlife in Namibia to fruit bats in Australia, and have never seen anything like Tiger Temple, which was a horror show. During my time there, I saw the Thai staff kicking and hitting tigers with sticks when the frustrated animals refused to cooperate, and boisterous cubs being slapped on the face and dragged away by their tails.
There were other animals roaming the grounds - deer, cows, camels, goats, pigs and peacocks - and some were sick, skinny or lame. Only the water buffalo looked content, probably because the monks hadn't found ways to exploit them. I came across a deer with a torn-off hoof staggering on a raw bloody stump. He gave up and slumped by the temple stairs. I was upset to see the buck in obvious distress and sought out the Canadian volunteer, who had driven us on the moped, to help. "We let animals be," he shrugged. "Buddhists don't interfere with nature."
"No," I snapped, "they just imprison, drug and torture them."
In line with the organization's spiel, he said the tigers had a spiritual bond with the monks, and the cubs were even brought to the temple to have breakfast with them. To prove his point that the animals had freedom to live (and breed) naturally, the volunteer added, the grounds were overrun with wild pigs. "If that's the case, why aren't there more baby tigers?"
"The monks sold them to China," my husband taunted him, unaware how prescient his words were.