The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) says the recent deaths of close to 100 rescued tigers from a popular attraction is “a great loss”, and the organisation is taking “serious action” on animal cruelty.
On Wednesday, Travel Weekly reported 86 of 147 tigers rescued from a notorious Thai tourist attraction – accused of animal cruelty and speed breeding for the supply of tiger parts for illegal wildlife trade – had died just three years later due to infections allegedly exacerbated by inbreeding.
Government officials say the tigers were affected by respiratory and highly infectious viral diseases.
After being contacted for comment by Travel Weekly, Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) said it was deeply saddened at the news of the rescue tiger deaths.
“It should be emphatically noted that the tigers died as a result of natural causes which are still under investigation by veterinarians … They did not die in captivity, nor were they featured in any animal shows,” a TAT spokesperson said.
“The tiger deaths are certainly a great loss.”
The national tourism marketing enterprise told Travel Weekly it understands animal welfare is a growing concern in the tourism industry, and iterated it was taking “serious action” on the issue, but said the individual management of each operator and attraction “is in their own hands”.
“We do not have any legal nor enforcement power, but we are constantly appealing to the good business sense of the operators,” a TAT spokesperson said.
The Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation said the tigers were affected by a respiratory disease, causing laryngeal paralysis, and Canine Distemper Virus – a serious, highly infectious disease that often affects dogs, but has been found in big cats.
According to the department, this represents the first time tigers in Thailand have been infected by Canine Distemper Virus. There is no medication to cure the disease in tigers.
“Their genetics … made their body weak and susceptible to the risk of infection,” Pattarapol Maneeorn, a wildlife veterinarian for the department, told a news conference on Monday, as reported by Reuters.
In 2016, after being prompted by international pressure over wildlife tracking, Thai authorities confiscated 147 tigers from the Tiger Temple, formally known as Wat Pa Luang Ta Bua Yan Sampanno, which remains open as a private wildlife sanctuary.
The big cats were then brought to a state-run wildlife sanctuary.
On Monday, the temple’s caretaker denied allegations the tigers had died of inbreeding, and accused authorities of locking the animals up in “small cages”.
He told Reuters that “despite our lack of academic knowledge, we used kindness so the tigers lived in wide spaces and not in cages”.
The head of the Khao Prathap Chang Wildlife Breeding Center in Ratchaburi – where the big cats were taken – maintained the tigers were “under good care” and officials at the state-run wildlife station put their full effort into taking care of them.
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.