- Last Tuesday, Thailand’s Department of National Parks granted the controversial tiger temple a license to operate a zoo, angering several activists and conservationists.
- The license, effective until 18 April 2021, will allow the Tiger Temple Co to use wild animals, including tigers, for show.
- Activists say that instead of penalizing the temple for its crimes, the department has granted them a license so that they can continue uncontrolled breeding of more tigers.
Thailand’s Tiger Temple has been mired in controversy.
Earlier this year, a National Geographic investigation and a report released by Cee4life (Conservation and Environmental Education for Life) accused the tiger temple of being involved in illegal tiger trade. The reports alleged that the temple’s 147 tigers were abused, kept and bred without permits, and illegally removed from or added to the temple.
The temple authorities have denied these allegations and have been trying to get a zoo permit to gain legal status of its 147 tigers. Previously, the temple’s applications for a zoo license were rejected.
But last Tuesday, the Department of National Parks granted the temple a license to operate a zoo, local media reported. This development has angered several activists and conservationists.
“We at the Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand (WFFT) are shocked and disgusted by this latest development of an ongoing sickening drama that has continued for so many years,” Edwin Wiek, Founder and Director of Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand, said in a statement. “Instead of being taken to court and receiving a well warranted penalty for all the crimes committed they now are rewarded with a zoo license, so they can further continue the uncontrolled breeding of more and more tigers. The temple can now obtain lots of more wildlife, through legally trading and purchasing many more endangered species, further increasing the abusive practices of this, what seems to us, like an unstoppable hell hole for animals.”
Wiek added that Thailand’s laws do not allow people involved in illegal wildlife trade to obtain a zoo license.
However, officials from the Department of National Parks told Bangkok Post that the license was given legally with proper regulations. The zoo will be registered and run under a separate private enterprise called the Tiger Temple Co.
This is mainly to deflect backlash against the temple, Saiyood Pengboonchoo, a lawyer for the temple, told Khaosod English. “The bureaucracy doesn’t want the temple involved in this because it would look bad.”
The license, which is effective until 18 April 2021, will allow the Tiger Temple Co to run a zoo covering 25 rai of land (~10 acres) to be developed with a budget of 120 million Baht (~$3.4 million). The license will allow the Tiger Temple Co to use wild animals, including tigers, for show, according to the Bangkok Post. But the company has to fulfil certain conditions, which include hiring full-time veterinarians and specialists, and having limited number of animals at the zoo.
This year so far, the Department of National Parks has removed 10 tigers from the temple and relocated them to government-run research centers. The department reportedly told the media that they will continue to relocate tigers from the temple, but the license would allow the temple company to buy its tigers back.
“We still have as our mission to relocate them all from the temple,” Adisorn Noochdamrong, the department’s Deputy Director General, told Bangkok Post. “If the company wants them back, it could be possible to buy them back from the department.”
Saiyood, the temple’s lawyer, told Khaosod English that the temple company does intend to buy the tigers back from the department once the tiger cages are ready.
Wiek has called the department’s explanation for granting a zoo license to the controversial temple “absurd and unbelievable”.
“The WFFT is seriously considering to demand from the Administrative Court that the law is to be enforced on this issue, and that the zoo license is revoked immediately by the courts on grounds of serious legal neglect on the prosecution, double standards on enforcement and that the issue of the zoo license is against procedure,” he said in the statement. “Last but not least we also would like to ask the Religion Affairs Department under the Ministry of Culture if commercialization, the opening of unethical businesses in temples, will be the new rule from now on instead of practicing the teachings of Buddha.”