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Tiger Temple: 86 Tiger rescued in raid of the Thai government, now dead

Thai veterinarians examine a sedated tiger before being removed from the Tiger Temple in Kanchanaburi province, Thailand, on May 30, 2016. (Narong Sangnak / EPA-EFE / Shutterstock)

Paying in Thailand's notorious Tiger Temple Tourists could pet and pose for selfies with the dozens of large cats calling the attraction home. They could feed tigers on leashes and with the bottle. The Buddhist monastery, which has become a tourist magnet, has been exposed to allegations of abuse for years, and in 2016, a raid by Thai authorities revealed terrible sights, including 40 frozen tiger babies being shoved into a refrigerator and a monk trying with 1,600 tigers to flee.

] The government soon removed 147 tigers from the site of the western Thai city of Kanchanaburi and brought them to two state institutions. In a tragic update to this case, Thai media reported Friday that 86 of the rescued animals have died. A government official attributed the death of the animals to a viral disease and said their immune system had been weakened by inbreeding.

"There were six tigers [originally at the temple] and later 147 or more, so there were always risks and we also found that their health was not good at first," said Pattarapol Maneeorn, a wildlife veterinarian from the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and crop protection, at a press conference on Monday, Reuters said. "Her genetics have weakened her body and made her vulnerable to the risk of infection."

The revelation was a blow to conservationists who had long argued for the closure of the tiger temple. Opened in 1994 as a forest monastery, the temple began its first tiger cub five years later, according to the history shown on its website. Over the years, more boys came, claimed the temple, many after their mothers were killed by poachers. Soon the tigers began to multiply and their numbers increased. Eventually, the temple opened to visitors and invited them to see the tigers.

Although the monks insisted that their "practical approach" led to "happy tigers," critics said the attraction was a front for the illegal tiger trade. It was among the hundreds of so-called "tiger farms" that were believed to be widespread in China, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. The World Wildlife Fund, which views facilities that breed tigers for commercial purposes as a threat to conservation, oversaw the temple and similar operations, said Ginette Hemley, senior vice president of conservation for the organization.

"To call it a temple I have absolutely given the impression that this is a place that is good for Tiger," she told the Washington Post. "And I think we were all surprised, even though we heard rumors about the extent of the problem."

The monastery was in controversy for the first time in 2001, when the authorities discovered that it held Tiger without permission. The controversy continued over the years and activists claimed that the facility exploited the beloved endangered animal. John Goodrich, chief scientist and senior director of the Tiger program at Panthera, a non-profit organization specializing in the protection of wildcats, estimates that 3,000 tigers lived 100,000 years ago worldwide. They live in some of the most densely populated parts of Asia, and while some South Asian countries are experiencing an upswing, "we are still in crisis at the heart of these tiger plants." [19659009] For years, the Tigers Temple continued to draw a steady stream of visitors despite the allegation of maltreatment at. The New York Times reported ticket sales of $ 5.7 million a year in 2016 as tourists sought an opportunity to experience the majestic animals up close.

Then, in 2016, an Australian non-profit organization Cee4Life (Conservation and Environmental Education for Life) has published a report claiming that the monastery is involved in commercial breeding and trafficking. Tiger parts are popular in Asia for use in traditional medicine, and experts say the illegal industry poses one of the biggest threats to the species.

In a National Geographic exposé, the co-founder of the charitable organization told Australian Wildlife Management expert Sybelle Foxcroft, described that newborns are being snatched from their mothers to be cuddled by paying tourists. She also compiled a list of 281 tigers born in Tigers Temple between 1999 and 2015, and told the magazine that number 134, which is no longer on the property, was "too big to cover for the deaths alone to be responsible. " The temple denied any wrongdoing and wrote on its Facebook page that volunteers "might jump to conclusions."

Within six months of fighting the temple in court, the government had invaded the temple and removed all its tigers. Three monks were arrested for attempting to smuggle tiger parts from the property, the New York Times reported. The facility has since been closed to the public.

After temple steward Athithat Srimanee learned that 86 of the confiscated tigers had died, he told Reuters that the government had confined the animals to small cages.

"When they raided the temple three years ago, they said nothing about infection, so this is just a game of guilt," he said.

Edwin Wiek, founder of the Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand, told the New York Times that he had asked the Department of National Parks to take precautions to keep the tigers healthy. He said he believed that steps like keeping a gap between cages could prevent deaths.

"It's a very sad story," he said. "I warned her then. It was avoidable, but they did not listen.

But other conservationists blame the Tiger Temple. Hemley called it "more evidence of the dreadful disadvantage of holding a large number of tigers in captivity." Goodrich said that while the deaths are "very sad and can be avoided or not," the temple is "on shaky ground" to blame.

Foxcroft also said the blame lay only with the monastery, where she said she had noticed a disease among the tigers. The news of the fate of the tigers, she wrote in a statement on the website of her charitable organization, "is devastating, but no wonder to me."

"When I heard of the 86 dead, it was like being in the Breast hit by a sledgehammer, "Foxcroft wrote. "But I also know that if the Tiger Temple had continued and the tigers had not been confiscated, they would still have died on the same [illnesses] but the difference would be that the Tiger Temple had skinned the corpses and has the body parts for sale used.

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