Thailand's infamous tiger temple fights to keep big cats

Fri Feb 26, 2016 6:13am EST
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By Jutarat Skulpichetrat

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand's controversial Tiger Temple, dogged for years by talk that it supplies the black market and mistreats its animals, is fighting to keep the big cats after wildlife authorities rejected a bid to extend a zoo license that expired in 2013.

The Buddhist temple, home to more than 100 tigers, has been investigated for suspected links to wildlife trafficking and wildlife activists have accused it of illegal breeding of the animals.

Thai wildlife authorities have sent ten of the temple's tigers to a wildlife sanctuary.

But the temple, which bills itself as a wildlife sanctuary, has denied links to illegal trafficking, and wants to hold on to its tigers.

"This is their home. They are happy here," said Supitpong Pakdijarung, an official of the foundation that runs Wat Pa Luang Ta Bua, as the temple is known in Thailand."The government has to find a budget to take care of them," Supitpong, the body's deputy chairman, told Reuters. "Here, the money comes from donations. It is about giving and generosity."

Supitpong denies accusations that tigers bred at the temple have been sold on the black market.

But the allegations of mistreatment of tigers had dented Thailand's tourism image, said Teunchai Noochdumrong, director of the country's Wildlife Conservation Office.

"The world is looking at us," he added. "The temple did not allow officials to enforce the law. The temple has affected Thai tourism."   Continued...

Tigers play at the Tiger Temple in Kanchanaburi province, west of Bangkok, Thailand, February 25, 2016. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom