Five Big Cats Rescued from Thailand’s Tiger Temple
Fate of remaining 142 big cats still uncertain
Thai officials seized five of the 147 captive tigers at the controversial Tiger Temple on Friday and relocated them to wildlife refuges run by the country’s national parks department, according to a report in the Bangkok Post.
Photo by Steve Winter
While the rescue of the first five tigers is welcome news, the fate of the remaining 142 was still unclear as of posting this update. The Bangkok Post reports that it’s possible that the temple authorities and Thai officials “had reached an agreement that 70 tigers could be removed while the remaining 77 should be kept at the temple for tourism purposes so the foundation can earn revenue to operate.”
Friday’s big cat rescue by Thai Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation comes a week after the National Geographic magazine revealed that the temple, officially known as Wat Pa Luangta Bua Yannasampanno, has been involved in the illegal trade and speed-breeding of tigers since at least 2004. The temple — that’s located in Kanchanaburi, about a three-hour drive from Bangkok — attracts thousands of tourists every year, who pay $200 or more each for hands-on contact with the tigers. The temple makes a whopping $3 million a year from this business.
Photo by Sharon Guynup
The NatGeo investigation was based, in part, on information provided in a report by the Australian animal welfare group, Cee4Life. The report includes videotaped evidence from a whistleblower codenamed “Charlie” that three micro-chipped male tigers were trafficked from the temple in December 2014 with the full knowledge of the temple’s founder and leader, Abbot Phra Acham Phoosit (Chan) Kanthitharo. (Read EIJ’s article on this issue, which includes an interview with Cee4Life founder Sybelle Foxcroft, here.)
Though Cee4Life made it’s report public last Friday (January 22), it had turned its findings over to Thai authorities (and to NatGeo) back in December.
The Thai Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation has been trying to remove the tigers from the temple for weeks, but the monastery’s socio-cultural standing and deep political influence seems to be proving a major roadblock in this regard. Board members at the temple have included a Thai general and an admiral.
The temple also has major expansion plans. It is currently building a $170 million “World Buddhist Sanctuary” that will include a new temple building and a larger tiger enterprise — housing up to 500 tigers in the project's initial phase. It has split itself up in to three separate entities — the monastery, a charitable foundation and a corporation that will handle a new tiger enterprise. Much to the concern of the wildlife community, the corporation has applied for a zoo license to run a safari-style tiger sanctuary.
Meanwhile, in what appears to be a preemptive move, the temple foundation — Wat Pa Luangta Bua Yanasampanno — has filed a lawsuit against the parks and wildlife department, seeking about $4 million plus 7.5 percent annual interest, to cover the costs of caring for the tigers, the Bangkok Post report says. The tigers legally belong to the government of Thailand and the temple is allowed to keep them under the stipulation that the monks not breed them, make any money off of them nor trade them.
A Thai court will hear the case in February.