Raised by a mother who loved and rescued countless animals, the childhood home of Sybelle Grace Foxcroft was never void of companions. It was not unusual for Sybelle to sleep amongst lizards, birds, dogs at her bedside on cushions, and cats tucked under her arms and around her legs.
“Dad showed me the oceans, the mountains, and taught me to love life,” Sybelle says smiling in remembrance of her father who passed when she was seventeen. “As a little girl, he would take me out into the surf beyond the breakers. Floating on our backs, he would say to me, There are no worries out here, Syb.”
At fifteen, she volunteered at the Koala Hospital, then worked with bigger native Australian animals including Red Kangaroos and Dingos. Sybelle knew she wanted to be a Park Ranger. Unable to afford university, Sybelle joined the Australian Defence Force and earned all three of her degrees at the University of Queensland, including her Graduate Certificate for Masters in Environmental Management (Conservation and Wildlife Biology).
“I loved being in the army,” Sybelle states. “It taught me incredible skills and gave me much experience with people, intense situations, and opened up my world to international issues and situations.”
Working hands-on in the field of Animal Ethics and Welfare at zoological parks, Sybelle learned more about the mighty and hypnotic cat species, especially the Great Cats, Lions and Tigers.
“Tasked to prepare food and feed both the lions and tigers,” Sybelle says, “gave me a very up close look at these similar, but very different big cats.”
In 2007, Sybelle went to work in the Tiger Temple, Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua, a Theravada Buddhist temple in western Thailand, for her final university project, a comparative study and development of a symbiotic program to implement high standards of care in both Western and Asian zoos.
“That was the beginning of something that would change and impact my life forever.”
“I was utterly shocked at what I saw in the Tiger Temple,” Sybelle recalls. Witnessing the abusive inner workings of a Tiger Farm, the illegal wildlife trade of tigers and other animals, and profit from tourism, Sybelle went undercover to investigate the abuse.
“When the investigative report was finished and released to the world, it did make an impact,” Sybelle sates, “however it did not save any of the tigers.”
In 2009, Sybelle created her own non-governmental organization, Conservation and Environmental Education 4 Life (Cee4life), to save the tigers.
Sybelle balances education and action by recording evidence of cruelty at the Tiger Temple to present to the public, engaging and educating Tiger Temple workers, and utilizing Tiger Stripe Identification, which is comparable to DNA evidence, to prevent tigers from disappearing into the wildlife trade.
With Tiger Stripe Identification, none of the tigers Sybelle directly worked with disappeared in the wildlife trade. “Others have disappeared over the years and the number of tigers at the Temple fluctuates between ninety to one hundred thirty,” Sybelle sighs.
“The true Buddhists are beautiful and inspiring people. But as in all faiths or beliefs, there is a corrupted element,” Sybelle says. “One of the most important goals I aim for is education regarding animals at all levels.”
This includes working with governments and zoos towards recognizing the sentient nature of tigers, implementing ethical care of animals in captivity, working with the Tourism industry to provide well researched information on ethical and humane tourist destinations, and protection of endangered species – particularly Apex predators like tigers.
Tigers, revered for their beauty and strength, are on the brink of extinction. Hunted for their fur, their body parts still used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for their mythical curative powers, deliberately killed for wandering into human occupied areas because humans have encroached on their habitat, and their prey species also hunted by humans, all combine into the possible collapse of an entire ecosystem.
“If you remove an Apex predator out of the environment,” Sybelle states, “you automatically cause a terrible sometimes cataclysmic imbalance in the ecosystem which can tremor all the way down to humans.”
Sybelle respects and understands the importance of knowing the role of cultural heritage, religious and socioeconomic conditions, and legislation. With education comes the possibility for economic growth and community efforts that decrease the human impact on the environment, and help resolve the human-animal conflict.
“I will always continue to try and find a way to implement humane care for captive animals and prove that with humane care, economic growth is possible,” Sybelle vows.
“We are the keepers of this earth. This is the only home we all have. We are here together. Species are spiraling to extinction faster than at any other time in history.”
“Many of us will live to see the extinction of some of the most iconic species on the planet if we do not start working together and fixing the mess we have all made,” Sybelle concludes. “I know its possible. It’s only impossible if we say it is.”
- Watch documentation of the Tiger Temple on the Conservation and Environmental Education 4 Life (Cee4life) YouTube channel
- Visit the Conservation and Environmental Education 4 Life (Cee4life) website
- Follow Conservation and Environmental Education 4 Life (Cee4life) on Facebook
- Follow Behind the Cloak of Buddha on Facebook
- Follow the Guardian Project, a Conservation and Environmental Education 4 Life (Cee4life) initiative to save tigers in India