Wildlife officials have begun the process of seizing and relocating 137 tigers from a popular tourist attraction in west Thailand.
The famous Tiger Temple has been controversial for quite some time, with accusations of illegal wildlife trading and animal abuse continuing for more than a decade. The monks and owners have always strongly denied such allegations and until now police investigations never made much progress.
The Buddhist temple, in Kanchanaburi province, always promoted itself as a wildlife sanctuary, a place where the tigers are naturally calm and live in harmony with humans. They claim some of them are even reincarnated monks and relatives.
It has also long been a popular tourist attraction, with ticket sales raising more than US$5.7 million a year. The draw for many is the experience of touching and posing for photos with live tigers, face to face with no bars. Despite a few rare attacks, the mostly subdued behaviour of the tigers is what has led some to claim they must be drugged.
One thing is for sure, the temple is not letting go of the tigers easily. Authorities have been trying to shut down the attraction for months but until now have met with stiff resistance and legal fights. The chairman has also stated he will take legal action against the officials who seized the animals.
The temple claims some of the tigers taken earlier in the year have been showing signs of extreme stress and boredom in the government facilities. Wildlife officials are doing the best they can to arrange temporary homes for the tigers, but having been raised in captivity, their future is extremely uncertain.