National park officials announced they will seize all of the big cats from Kanchanaburi’s infamous “Tiger Temple” beginning Friday.
Despite asking for cooperation from the temple, the announcement publicized today sets the stage for another showdown between government agencies who for months have sparred with the facility’s monks and abbot over the legal status of hundreds of wild animals kept there, including at least 146 tigers.
“To manage the wildlife which rightfully belongs to the country, the Department of Wildlife and Plant Conservation has decided it will take the wild animals back and relocate them to a suitable habitat,” department chief Nipon Chotibarn said in a decree publicized today. “We would like you [President of the Tiger Temple] to inspect the animals with us and return them to the department at 10am on Friday, April 24.”
Just before the Songkran holiday, wildlife officials sent a clear signal they would soon move to remove the tigers months after allegations by the temple’s former veterinarian that at least two had gone missing and were possibly sold.
Those accusations in December seemed to provide the necessary cover for government intervention after years of reports from international wildlife organizations implicating the temple in trafficking the very animals it claimed to protect.
However the temple’s staff and coterie of monks, led by its abbot, pushed back against several raids which began in February, refusing to cooperate or provide access to the animals. Regardless, teams consisting of wildlife officials and the military seized hundreds of birds it said had been trafficked, and after a tense standoff, rescued several moon bears the temple didn’t hold papers for by sneaking them out with a crane.
Wildlife organizations have hailed the move, while facilities have been prepared to accommodate the animals at two centers in Ratchaburi province.
The temple, also known as Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua, opened two decades ago as a supposed sanctuary and has marketed itself to tourists as a conservation effort. It’s a popular destination for visitors to pay to touch the wild cats and pose for selfies with them. A previous attempt to shutter the temple under a previous administration failed due to resistance from the temple.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons