Thai officials mum over 'five tigers removed from Tiger Temple'

PHOTO: The Nation

Officials are tight-lipped about events at the world famous but highly controversial Tiger Temple, following reports that at least five tigers were removed from the monastic compound on Thursday night.

An informed source disclosed yesterday that cages containing five tigers were loaded onto two six-wheeled trucks at the temple, officially known as Wat Pa Luangta Maha Bua Yannasampano, in Kanchaburi's Sai Yok district on Thursday and driven away.

Officials from the Department of National Parks and Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) were involved in the operation with representatives from the temple's foundation also on hand, the source said.

"But we don't know exactly where these tigers have been sent."

The source said the animals may have been sent to either Khao Pra Thap Chang Wildlife Breeding Centre or the Khao Son Wildlife Breeding Centre in Ratchaburi province.

However, the decision to carry out the transfer at night has raised several questions. Last year, the DNP demanded that the Tiger Temple hand over its 147 tigers to the authorities, as it has no permits to keep them.

However earlier this month, the Wat Pa Luangta Maha Bua Yannasampano Foundation reportedly lodged a complaint against the department, seeking Bt147 million (S$5.9million) in compensation for the 147 tigers that it has raised for more than a decade. The court was scheduled to start hearing testimony from plaintiff witnesses next month.

But an informed source said the foundation and the DNP reached a deal.

"Under the deal, the foundation has agreed to hand over 70 tigers to the DNP so that it can keep the rest for income-generating tourist activities," the source said.

To date, the DNP has refused to respond to any questions about the reported deal.

Reporters were barred from entering the Khao Pra Thap Chang Wildlife Breeding Centre or Khao Son Wildlife Breeding Centre yesterday. Heads of the centres declined to speak to the media.