Tigers seized from Thai temple

Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua. Source: Wikimedia

 

Around 1,000 Thai officials have been involved in a raid on the famous Buddhist temple where tigers are kept, taking away three of its 137 big cats and vowing to confiscate others in response to global pressure over wildlife trafficking.

The Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua in Kanchanaburi province west of Bangkok is popular with tourists who pay large sums to take photos of themselves with tigers and bottle-feed the cubs.

More than 300 officials remained at the temple overnight to ensure the remaining tigers were safe.

The temple is trying to register as a zoo, but the plan fell through when the military-run authorities said that the operators failed to secure sufficient resources.

The wat claims to be a wildlife sanctuary, but in recent years it has been investigated over alleged links to wildlife trafficking and animal abuse.

The monks resisted previous efforts to take away the tigers, and impeded the raid this week despite the massive official show of force. They relented after the authorities obtained a court order.

Activists have accused monks of illegally breeding tigers, while tourists often say the animals are drugged.

Activists claim the temple makes tens of thousands of dollars by selling off older cats for use in Chinese medicine in a lucrative trade.

The monks deny the allegations.

Adisorn Nuchdamrong of the Department of National Parks said: “We have a court warrant this time, unlike previous times, when we only asked for the temple’s cooperation, which did not work.

“International pressure concerning illegal wildlife trafficking is also part of why we’re acting now.”

Wildlife officials said they planned to confiscate more tigers and send them to a state-owned sanctuary.

In January and February wildlife officials removed 10 of the tigers.

Thailand has long been a hub for wildlife trafficking and for trade in products like ivory. Exotic birds, mammals and reptiles can often be found on sale in its markets.

The government introduced new animal welfare legislation last year aimed at curbing animal abuse, but activists accuse the military junta of not enforcing the law properly.