Thailand’s Department of National Parks, Wildlife, and Plant Conservation is facing a dilemma: antagonize monks and tourism workers by removing animals from Kanchanaburi’s notorious ‘Tiger Temple’, or face harsh criticism from activists, NGO’s and the international community by maintaining the status quo.
Those conservationists were quick to applaud the government’s initially tough stance on the temple. On April 16, department chief Nipon Chotibarn announced that his officers would take the tourist site’s wild tigers “back and relocate them to a suitable habitat” beginning at 10am this morning, according to Coconuts Bangkok.
However, the chief spoke in far softer terms yesterday, when he told reporters that officials will instead need to negotiate with the temple’s abbots because they insist that the tigers are Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua main attraction and, because the visitors pay THB600 (US$18.50) to pet and take photos with the cats, thus a key source of income for those tourist workers.
“Officials are prepared to relocate the animals tomorrow, but if we do it without negotiation, there will definitely be conflict,” the chief told reporters yesterday.
The delay is yet another setback for wildlife activists, who say that the temple engages in cruel and illegal practices and have long pressed for the animals’ removal. Between 2005-2008 activist NGO Care For The Wild carried out an investigation of the temple, before accusing it of using unbearably cramped cages and illegal breeding. An IB Times article also noted concerns about the abbots partaking in illegal animal trafficking. Meanwhile, a 2014 post on Matador Network’s website called the Kanchanaburi site “Thailand’s most controversial temple.”
Conservationists were optimistic after officials used cranes to remove moon bears, a protected species, from dens at the Tiger Temple earlier this month, according to The Nation. However, the temple’s monks attempted to blockade the officers carrying out the retrieval. That was the only such incident in which officials followed through on pledges to crack down on the temple.