A staple for Tinder and Instagram profiles, the Tiger Temple in Thailand has long been mired in controversy and allegations. Many wildlife activists have accused the Buddhist temple of wildlife trafficking, animal abuse, and illegal breeding of tigers and other endangered wildlife – accusations that the monks who run it vigorously deny. But it seems that the Thai authorities have finally run out of patience, and have raided the popular tourist attraction and begun confiscating the big cats.
Known officially as the Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua Tiger Temple, it is thought to house at least 137 endangered tigers in the monastery, which the monks claim to have been rescued. Tourists can pay to visit the temple, run by monks and volunteers, and have their pictures taken as they walk and touch the adult tigers, as well as play with and bottle-feed the cubs. Yet for years, there have been allegations leveled against the site, accusing the monks of illegally breeding the cats to keep a fresh supply of cubs and adults, as well as drugging the tigers to make them more docile and yielding.
The Thai authorities have been trying to get access to the temple for years, and want to bring the tigers under state control, but the monks have stood firm and resisted. This week saw the government present the temple with a court order, as the 1,000 personnel raid began. So far, it is reported that at least 40 tigers have been seized, and are being sent to wildlife refuges. The move comes as the nation is under mounting pressure to curb the illegal trade in wildlife, of which Thailand is a major hub.
“We have a court warrant this time, unlike previous times, when we only asked for the temple’s cooperation, which did not work,” Adisorn Nuchdamrong, the deputy director general of the department of national parks, told Reuters. “International pressure concerning illegal wildlife trafficking is also part of why we’re acting now.”
The temple claim that they look after their tigers well, and all accusations of abuse are unfounded. VITOO THONGJANG/Shutterstock
The temple, located in Thailand’s Kanchanaburi Province, has long been popular with tourists, who are able to walk among the tigers as they are chained to posts, taking pictures with the big cats as they sleep and perform. But there have been indications of a murkier side to the self-proclaimed “sanctuary.” There have been frequent reports that the animals look “drugged,” and videos have emerged of the staff beating the big cats. But more seriously, there are suggestions that the temple is in fact a tiger farm, breeding the cats and even trading them with another facility in Laos, an act which contravenes both CITES and the national laws of Thailand and Laos.
There have been many accusations that the cats appear drugged so that people can take photos with the docile animals. paintings/Shutterstock
Not only that, but it has also been accused of keeping and breeding other endangered animals, such as bears. In fact, the Thai authorities have already seized 38 hornbills from various species, but all of which are protected under national law. The temple, obviously, denies all this, but it seems that the Thai government thinks that there is enough evidence to force them to hand over the tigers into their custody.