Cruel ‘Tiger Temple’ Is Finally Losing All Of Its Tigers
Update (06/7/16), 8:11 A.M. EST: Police are currently investigating a home located 30 miles away from Tiger Temple, which is suspected to be a tiger slaughterhouse and holding facility associated with the temple. Four live tigers, in addition to cages, were discovered on the premises, the Associated Press reported.
Thailand's infamous Wat Pa Luangta Maha Bua Yannasampanno, also known as the "Tiger Temple," a popular tourist attraction where visitors are allowed to hold or take pictures with any of its big cats, is in trouble - again.
The Tiger Temple, which claims to be a wildlife sanctuary, has been repeatedly accused of abusing and mistreating its tigers, and has even allegedly participated in wildlife trafficking - and this time the allegations appear to be sticking.
On Monday, under the protection of a warrant (as previous attempts solely depended on the temple's cooperation), hundreds of wildlife officials began removing the tigers, with the aim of getting all 137 tigers out within the week and transported to government sanctuaries across the country.
A vet with the temple told wildlife officials some of the tigers were being sold into a "transnational trafficking crime organization," NBC News reported, prompting the decision to finally seize the animals this week.
Authorities have made ongoing attempts to remove the tigers since 2001 to combat mounting allegations, which range from breeding tigers to selling animal parts and beating the big cats.
Ten tigers were removed from the temple during raids in January and February.
A last-ditch effort to relocate the animals came in April, when government officials provided the temple with a temporary license to build a zoo.
Past attempts to relocate the tigers from the temple were met with resistance, according to The Nation, an English-language Thai news source. This time, monks at the temple set tigers free to roam the compound in order to allegedly delay the capture process.
Staffers at the temple have long since denied accusations about the mistreatment of its tigers. "As you know, 10 of our tigers have been relocated to The DNP facility in Ratchaburi," the Tiger Temple wrote in a Facebook post published on May 28. "Many people falsely believe this move is to do with animal welfare. This is far from the truth."
Supitpong Pakdijarung, managing director at the Tiger Temple, told NBC News that if there had been illegal trading or smuggling, evidence would have come to light by now. "It has been more than a year and the case hasn't gone anywhere," Pakdijarung said. With an annual $5.7 million made in ticket sales, including $140 "premium admission" tickets for access to its tigers, the Tiger Temple has proven to be a flourishing business, which may explain, in part, why employees are dismayed to see it come to an end.
"We built this temple to spread Buddhism," Pakdijarung once told The New York Times. "The tigers came by themselves."
Anak Pattanavibool, a Kasetsart University lecturer associated with the forestry department, told The Nation that the decision for the government to keep the tigers is the best one, given that they grew up in captivity and cannot be returned to the wild. Furthermore, a majority of the animals are Bengal tigers, which aren't native to Thailand.
"The tigers that were on the loose yesterday have now either been caught and moved out of the temple or moved to a safe area," Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand (WFFT) recently wrote on Facebook. "WFFT is seriously concerned about the wellbeing of the tigers for the (near) future, and will monitor their progress ... a group of almost a dozen Thai NGOs will work together to find the best solution possible [for the tigers] with the authorities."
Meanwhile, the remaining tigers are under the protective watch of wildlife officials as relocation efforts continue.