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Officials moving tigers out of famed tiger temple

Thailand’s government took strong action this month to protect wildlife as officials from the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation began moving all 146 tigers from the country’s famed “Tiger Temple” to wildlife breeding centers and sanctuaries after repeated complaints the endangered cats were being abused.
 
The Department did not issue an official statement regarding the reason for the removal, but media reports indicated that a former monk from the temple had alerted authorities that three of its tigers had disappeared.  In February, the temple, whose official name is Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua and is located in western Kanchanaburi province, had been cleared by the Department after an investigation into allegations that it was involved in illegal wildlife trafficking.
 
Earlier this month, Department officials engaged in a tense standoff with monks at the temple when they confiscated six Asian black bears. The bears were discovered when the officials came to inspect the temple after receiving the report of the missing tigers. The temple has no license to have to the bears, which are a protected species.
 
Nipon Chotiban, director-general of the Department said the tigers would be taken to two conservation centers in western Thailand.  Eventually, some would be sold or given to licensed, reputable zoos.  Most are Bengal tigers, he said, which are not native to Thailand.
 
Because the Bengal tiger is not a local breed, they cannot be reintroduced into Thailand’s forest ecosystem. “We must take care of them till they die," he said.
 
The temple has gained worldwide notoriety because it allows visitors, including foreign tourists, to have direct contact with the tigers; stroking them, hugging them and taking photographs with big cats. Such photographs have become enormously popular on social media.
 
But the phenomenon has drawn criticisms and complaints from wildlife conservationists and animal rights activists. The temple’s supporters argue that it provides a sanctuary for the endangered tigers. But others have alleged that the tigers have been drugged to make them docile enough for contact with tourists, and that the temple is profiting from tourism.
 
“Thailand’s Tiger Temple is at the heart of the unfortunate wild animal selfie trend that has emerged in the past few years and it is a high time people know the truth,” said Nil Zacharias, co-founder of One Green Planet, an environmental and animal rights website.
 
One Green Planet has alleged that monks and others at the temple tear the tigers away from their mothers when they are still cubs and submit the young cats to repeated physical abuse to break their spirits and train them to obey humans.  The website has posted videos that claim to show instances of this abuse, with handlers kicking, shaking and throwing tiger cubs, submitting them to sleep deprivation and squirting tiger urine in their eyes.  They also published an investigative report claiming the temple is involved in illegal breeding and trafficking of tigers, although the Department cleared the temple of that charge.
 
See the original artcle at Thailand Focus

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