FOREST RANGERS and wildlife protection officials yesterday retrieved six moon bears - a protected species - from dens at a famous temple in Kanchanaburi known to tourists as the Tiger Temple, despite resistance by resident monks and their followers.
The animals were sedated before being hoisted by a crane onto trucks carrying cages and taken away unbeknown to the many protesters, who had blocked the temple's entrance.
The bears are now at a wildlife breeding facility in Chon Buri's Bang Lamung district.
Action will also be taken in response to 143 or 146 Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation-registered Bengal tigers being kept at the same temple, Wat Pa Luangta Maha Bua, which also serves as a zoo, said senior department official Kraiwut Iamnont.
After the dramatic retrieval of the bears, which was carried out by a 400-strong team made up of department staff, police and soldiers, a petition was filed with local police accusing people of keeping a protected species without permission.
No forestry or department officials discussed what action will be taken in the case of the tigers.
A large number of monks and followers began their blockade at the temple's entrance a few days ago in a bid to prevent forest rangers and wildlife protection officials entering the premise.
Entry to the temple was achieved after officials distracted protesters by pretending to negotiate with them so that a rescue team could sneak intrucks carrying cages and sedate the bears.
Bears stuck in cages for many hours
Another rescue team hoisted the animals onto the trucks and they were put in the cages and both teams drove away. But it took many hours before the bears could be lifted out in their cages.
Kraiwut said an investigation would begin to determine the exact number of tigers at Wat Pa Luangta Maha Bua, after a vet who monitored the tigers, Somchai Wisetmongkholchai, recently said three tigers were stolen from the temple.
A department source said Kanchanaburi authorities would seek the co-operation of the temple over measures to inspect the tigers, which had microchips embedded under their skin to verify their status as being registered with the department.
The department will wait for the temple's response before taking action, the source said.
The temple houses many types of unprotected animals.