Over half of the 147 tigers rescued from a well-known Thai tourist attraction have died, allegedly as a result of inbreeding.
Thai government officials are reporting that 86 of the 147 tigers seized in 2016 from the ‘Tiger Temple’ in Thailand – a Buddhist temple formally known as Wat Pa Luang Ta Bua Yan Sampanno – have died from a viral disease exacerbated by inbreeding, according to the Department of National Parks.
The temple is reportedly a popular tourist attraction that allows visitors to take selfies with tigers and bottle-feed cubs – practices widely criticised by animal welfare groups for their links to animal cruelty.
The tigers were reportedly seized after a National Geographic exposé and work by the Australian conservation non-profit Cee4Life revealed cases of alleged animal abuse and speed breeding of the big cats to “supply tiger body parts for illegal trade”.
Since then, the tigers have been in the care of the Thai government.
A statement by Thailand’s Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation said DNA testing revealed all 147 confiscated tigers were born from the inbreeding of six individuals used as the original ‘breeding stock’.
The temple’s caretaker, Athithat Srimanee, disputes the animals died as a result of inbreeding and infections acquired at the temple, according to Reuters. He instead contends the animals died due to poor conditions in government care, including small cages.
In 2016, World Animal Protection investigated the scale of Thailand’s tiger industry, finding a third more captive tigers (33 per cent) in Thailand in the past five years.
At the time of its investigations, there were 830 tigers in captivity at entertainment venues in Thailand, compared to the 623 when the organisation first researched this issue in 2010.
In April 2019, the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation reported the total number of captive tigers in Thailand to be 1,570 tigers, indicating a further increase since World Animal Protection’s investigation in 2016.
Doctor Jan Schmidt-Burbach, global head of wildlife research at World Animal Protection, said tigers belong in the wild and “not at tourist entertainment venues”.
“This is a miserable reminder that the breeding of tigers for tourist entertainment serves no conservation benefit, is harmful to the animals involved, and is linked to the illegal trade for tiger products,” he told Travel Weekly.
“The owners of Tiger Temple have been at the centre of a criminal investigation for the last three years, yet little progress has been made. It’s clear there needs to be a stronger sense of urgency to stop these venues from profiting from cruelty.
“We commend the Thai authorities for the steps taken in recent years in better monitoring of captive tiger facilities. But, in order to end the suffering of tigers in captivity once and for all, we need to see policies to ban captive breeding of tigers for profit.
“It is impossible to meet all the needs of tiger in captivity. The lucrative business of exploiting tigers for profit must end. Tigers are wild animals – they belong in the wild, not at tourist entertainment venues.”