6 June 2016
Thai wildlife authorities have completed a week-long operation at the controversial Tiger Temple in Kanchanaburi. Approximately 1,000 people were involved in the raid which began on Monday last week at Wat Pa Luangta Bua west of Bangkok. The monks initially resisted the authorities and only gave in when presented with a court order. Thai wildlife authorities are investigating allegations of animal abuse and wildlife trafficking. The allegations have persisted over the years, but have always been denied by the monks and supporters of the temple.
Wildlife officials removed dozens of tigers from the facility in Kanchanaburi and took them to animal refuges. Thailand’s Department of National Parks (DNP) confirmed that following the raid, 22 people have been charged with illegal wildlife possession and trafficking. Amongst those charged are monks and members of the temple’s foundation. On Thursday, three monks were apprehended whilst trying to flee with a truckload of tiger skins.
Discovery of dead tiger cubs
During the raid last week, the bodies of forty dead tiger cubs were discovered in a freezer at the temple. Wildlife officials say the cubs were no more than one or two days old when they died. Body parts from other animals were also found in a freezer. New criminal charges have been filed against the temple in light of the disturbing discoveries. The temple has been accused over the years of being involved in unethical breeding and trafficking of endangered animals. The illegal animal trade is a lucrative one with a ready market in Asia where tiger bones and body parts are used in traditional Chinese medicine.
In statements on the ‘Tiger Temple’s’ Facebook page, they claim that the mortality rate for tiger cubs at the temple was “comparatively low”. The statement went on to say that the facility previously cremated dead cubs, but that policy was changed in 2010 on the advice of a vet, “probably to keep as proof against the allegations of selling cubs”. The temple also say that the DNP had checked the freezer on previous visits and were aware of the presence of the dead tiger cubs.
Is it the end for Thailand’s Tiger Temple?
The first abandoned tiger cub was taken in by the abbot of the temple in 1999. During the subsequent years the temple in Kanchanaburi transformed into a major tourist attraction, but allegations of wrong-doing at Wat Pa Luangta Bua persisted. In 2015, Thai authorities negotiated a deal with the temple following a series of incidents.
The World Wildlife Fund welcomed the action by the Thai authorities last week and called on the Thai government to prohibit the temple from keeping tigers in future. Although Wat Pa Luangta Bua has steadfastly refuted allegations made against it over the years, the evidence is stacking up against the temple. In another development today, it was announced that the temple faces charges of illegal encroachment on forestry land. There are also reported to be irregularities with the temple’s land deeds. These legal matters alone could result in the ‘Tiger Temple’ being forced to close down regardless of whether the charges of animal trafficking are upheld or not.