BANGKOK, Thailand––The economic and political clout of the notorious “Tiger Temple” in Kanchanaburi, Thailand prevailed again over the last weekend of April 2015.
Instead of impounding the 146 resident tigers, the Thai Department of National Parks, Wildlife & Plant Conservation on April 24, 2015 announced a deal whereby the tigers are to remain at the “Tiger Temple,” with the sole substantive change in the “Tiger Temple” modus operandi being that the Wat Pa Luang Ta Maha Bua monks can no longer collect an admission fee as such.
No admission––but can take donations
Said a written statement from the Thai Department of National Parks, Wildlife & Plant Conservation, “The temple should not gain commercial benefit from the tigers without permission from department such as selling tourists admission fees or charging them money to take photos.”
“Tourists will still be able to visit the animals but for free of charge,” Thai Wildlife Breeding Department director Nares Chomboon told Bangkok Coconuts reporters Todd Ruiz and Prae Sakaowan. “The foundation, however, can collect donations for buying tiger food,” Nares Chomboon said.
Agence France-Press speculated that, “The deal raises doubts over whether the sanctuary can continue as a tourist attraction.”
Counted Wildlife Friends Foundation of Thailand founder Edwin Wiek, who has campaigned to close the Tiger Temple for more than 10 years, “I don’t see that happening. The temple never kept their promises on previous deals. Why would it be different this time?”
Thai Department of National Parks, Wildlife & Plant Conservation director general Nipon Chotiban on April 6, 2015 promised the tigers would be impounded as soon as arrangements were completed to house them at government facilities.
Apologized to monks
But Chotiban delegated deputy director general Adisorn Nuchdamrong on April 24, 2015 to apologize to the “Tiger Temple” for exercising allegedly heavy-handed law enforcement over the preceding several months.
“Officials are prepared to relocate the animals tomorrow,” Nares Chomboon told Ruiz on April 23, 2015, a day ahead of the scheduled tiger impoundment, “but if we do it without negotiation, there will definitely be conflict.”
Therefore, Nares Chomboon said, “We will count how many animals there are. If the temple can find someone to take responsibility for the animals, then they can stay.”
Wrote Ruiz, “Moving all the animals would take months, Nares Chomboon added. They [government officials] are concerned about repeating a tense standoff earlier this month when officials backed by soldiers tried removing moon bears from the site. More than 100 monks and staff blocked government trucks. The animals were left suffering in the heat until a crane was used to extricate the bears over a wall while a diversion was created.
“After years of alleged mistreatment and involvement in illegal trafficking,” Ruiz added, “the temple was targeted for enforcement after former veterinarian Somchai Wisetmongkolchai, who was legally empowered to care for the animals, separated from the temple after accusing it of selling several animals in December 2014. Beginning in February, a series of attempted raids and studies were thwarted by the temple’s abbot,” Phra Vissuthisaradhera, “who refused to cooperate, grant access, or unlock the animals’ cages.
“With Somchai no longer at the temple,” Ruiz continued, “Nares said the Tiger Temple Foundation will be allowed to keep the animals if it can find a new qualified individual to take legal responsibility for keeping them under the conditions set by the department, ensuring they receive proper care and supervision by a veterinarian.”
Added The Nation, of Bangkok, “The 146 tigers will be kept in the temple compound, but will be seen as state assets. Each tiger will be registered and electronically tagged. The agreement between Wat Pa Luang Ta Maha Bua and the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation does not include the Asian white-chested bear and hornbills, both endangered and protected species,” who were removed from the temple in February 2015.
“The department will still proceed with taking action over the charge of possessing protected species against the temple,” resulting from the bear and hornbill confiscations,” The Nation said.
As far back as 2002 the Thai Department of National Parks, Plants and Wildlife declared that the “Tiger Temple” was operating illegally, but left the tigers on the premises and allowed the temple to remain open to visitors, “because there was nowhere else for the tigers to go,” summarized the British animal charity Care for the Wild. Care for the Wild has since 2005 urged British visitors to Thailand to avoid the “Tiger Temple,” but British tourists still frequently post photos of their hands-on encounters with tigers at the temple, indicating that they still make up a substantial share of the visitor patronage.