In 2016, 147 tigers were rescued from the Buddhist temple formally known as Wat Pa Luangta Bua Yannasampanno. It had been turned into a popular tourist attraction called ‘Tiger Temple’ which was heavily accused of animal abuse and trafficking. 3 years after that rescue, over half of the rescued tigers have reportedly died.
The Thai government has deemed the official cause of death a viral disease which was made worse by inbreeding. This has been backed up by Sybelle Foxcroft, cofounder of Australian Conservation nonprofit Cee4Life, whose thesis first investigated the controversial practices of the temple back in 2007. According to her, the signs of disease were obvious from before the rescue.
“One particular tiger, Mek Jnr, showed severe symptoms in 2015 when he was walking into walls, his back legs weakening, disorientation at times,” a statement on the Cee4Life website reads.
“Again, I wrote publicly about Mek Jnr and I was just about begging the Tiger Temple to help him, but they ignored it all and said he was fine. He was far from fine and he would end up dying in agony from this,” it continues.
She concludes: “I also know that if the Tiger Temple had continued, and the tigers were not confiscated, they would have still died of the same illnesses, but the difference would be that the Tiger Temple would have skinned the dead bodies, and used the body parts for sales.”
However, there are some who challenge the allegations that the tigers died due to infections contracted at the temple. The Thai government has been accused of enforcing conditions such as small cages and improper care. Athithat Srimanee, a caretaker at Tiger Temple, insists that it was the poor conditions of government facilities which likely lead to their demise.
It is a contention backed by the Born Free Foundation, an organization which opposes the forced captivity of any wild animals. They have made calls for the investigation of these tiger deaths, with their president Will Travers stating: “The death of more than half the tigers rescued from Tiger Temple within a matter of just a few years is, frankly, scandalous. It requires a full, independent, investigation reporting to the Prime Minister’s Office, the findings of which should be placed in the public domain.”
The Thai government’s response has been to assure the public that the remaining 61 tigers are being well-taken care of. They guarantee that the living conditions of the tigers are safe and stress-free.
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