Kanchanaburi, Thailand – The Tiger Temple was founded in 1994 as just another monastery. The monks at the temple had started life simply enough, offering the grounds as a sanctuary for a few indigenous wild animals – a fairly common occurrence with rural monasteries.
According to the Tiger Temple website, the monks were given their first tiger in 1999 by local villagers, an abandoned and sickly cub who died soon after. By 2001, another seven tigers were at the temple, also rescues. But by 2016, they numbered nearly 150.
This week, as evidence of illegal trafficking continued to emerge from the Tiger Temple and allegations were made against the upper management and abbot, Phra Sutthi Sarathera, a massive raid was conducted by wildlife officials to relocate all the tigers.
Removing and relocating the 137 tigers from the temple in a week was an enormous task involving hundreds of wildlife officers. The goal was to remove around 20 a day when the heat was less severe.
The staff and volunteer caretakers who had dedicated their work to improving the welfare of temple tigers feel what progress they had made has been halted by the raid, and are deeply concerned about the fate of the tigers – both during the traumatic removal process and in the new facilities.
Tanya Erzinclioglu, a volunteer caretaker at the temple since 2010, said: “It concerns me greatly that … everyone will forget about it and no one will actually follow through to see what actually happens with the tigers.”