On Monday, wildlife authorities in Thailand announced that 86 of the 147 tigers that were removed during a 2016 crackdown on the country’s controversial ‘Tiger Temple’ had died. Animal rights activists have accused the authorities of mismanagement.
The Tiger Temple, a popular tourist destination, had been accused of involvement in the illegal smuggling of tigers, and of mistreating captive tigers.
During the 2016 raid, 40 dead tiger cubs were found in a freezer. After the operation, it was feared that the 147 rescued tigers would not survive in the wild, and were thus kept at breeding stations.
How the tigers died
According to Thai authorities, the deaths have occurred because of Canine Distemper Virus (CDV)-caused illness, a serious condition that generally affects dogs but which has also been seen in big cats. Laryngeal paralysis, a respiratory disease, has also been cited as a reason.
The tigers were subjected to severe stress when they were moved from the Temple to the breeding centres.
Only 61 of the original 147 now survive.
Activists believe that the deaths could have been averted had Thai wildlife authorities taken preventive measures, such as keeping a safe distance between the animals’ cages to avoid the spread of diseases. Thai authorities have said that the big cats were inbred at the Temple, thus leading to conditions that resulted in their deaths.
The ‘Tiger Temple’
The Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua Yanasampanno, or better known to tourists as the Tiger Temple, was a Buddhist monastery that also functioned as a petting zoo. Located in Kanchanaburi Province to the west of Bangkok, it offered tourists a chance to pet tigers and click pictures with them.
The Temple attracted tourists from around the world, and had a basic entry fee of 600 Baht (around INR 1400). It made over $5.7 million per year from ticket sales, and also received millions in donations.
The 2016 rescue
Tiger parts are in high demand in countries such as China, where they are considered a part of traditional medicine. The Tiger Temple had long been accused by wildlife groups for being involved in illegal trafficking.
In 2014, three microchip-tracked tigers disappeared from the Temple, prompting an investigation. A veterinarian who worked there quit his job and revealed that the microchips had been cut out from the tigers’ bodies.
Thai animal authorities finally led a major operation against the Temple in 2016, where apart from rescuing 147 tigers they found 40 dead tiger cubs and other animal body parts in the kitchen freezer.