Temple banned from making money off tigers

Temple banned from making money off tigers
File photo of a tiger
PHOTO: Reuters

Wat Pa Luang Ta Bua in Kanchanaburi province has long proved a hit among visitors who flock there to visit the monks and be photographed next to their huge feline pets.

But the temple has long had a controversial reputation among animal rights groups and Thai wildlife officials who say it is breaking the law by keeping the cats.

The Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation said the temple had been keeping the animals without the proper paperwork and had vowed to seize them, sparking stand-offs in recent weeks between officials and angry monks blocking their way.

DNP officials conducted a headcount on Friday, discovering 147 tigers in the monk's care. Officials had earlier indicated they would take the animals, despite concerns that the department might not have adequate facilities to look after such a large number of cats.

On Saturday the DNP released a statement saying it had reached a deal with the monks allowing them to continue keeping the tigers under certain conditions including a ban on any further breeding or profiting from the cats.

"The temple should not gain commercial benefit from the tigers without permission from [the] department such as selling tourists admission fees or charging them money to take photos," the department said in the statement.

The DNP said the temple had also agreed that the tigers were officially "confiscated state assets and under the responsibility" of the parks department but added that the monks were still responsible for the costs of looking after the cats.

Any breach of the deal, the statement added, would result in the DNP seizing the animals.

The temple could not be reached for comment on Saturday but the deal raises doubts over whether the sanctuary can continue as a tourist attraction.

Friday's headcount was sparked by allegations by a former temple vet last week who complained to police that three tigers had recently disappeared from the sanctuary, sparking fears they may have been sold.

"We still don't know yet where the missing tigers are or what happened to them," Edwin Wiek, of the Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand, told AFP. The foundation has campaigned to have the tigers removed.

Wiek said he was sceptical the temple would close as a tourist attraction or a breeding centre because previous deals struck with the authorities had failed.

"I don't see that happening. The temple never kept their promises on previous deals, why would it be different this time?"

The monks have previously insisted they are a genuine conservation project providing a home for tigers that cannot be returned to the wild.

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