Lonely Planet Writer

Thailand's Tiger Temple applies for zoo licence in last-ditch effort to keep big cats

As Thai authorities plan to shut down a controversial 'Tiger Temple’, its monk owners have applied for a zoo licence in hopes of keeping their 142 captive tigers.

A tiger and cub at Kanchanaburi's Tiger Temple.
A tiger and cub at Kanchanaburi's Tiger Temple. Image by Kieran Lamb / CC BY-SA 2.0

Following reports of trafficking and abuse at Kanchanaburi's Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua Yanasampanno, Thailand’s Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) seized five tigers from the facility in February, transporting them to the Khao Prathap Chang Wildlife Sanctuary.

Pending a court ruling, the DNP is reportedly now preparing to transport the remaining tigers to the same sanctuary. Existing tigers at the facility would be transferred to other DNP research centres throughout the country to make the room for the arrival of at least five Tiger Temple cats each week, according to the DNP.

"The tigers are not theirs to keep," Thanya Netithammakun, director-general of the DNP, told the Bangkok Post. "They can't own wild animals." It’s not the first time the DNP has threatened to remove the big cats from the temple, which has had tigers in its possession since at least 2001. Monks were allowed to keep the tigers at the temple, at which tourists were allowed to pose with the critically endangered animals for a fee, upon repeated assurances to officials that the big cats were well looked after.

The DNP operation to seize the tigers in February came just days after the release of a report from Australian NGO Cee4life (Conservation and Environmental Education for Life), which claimed to have uncovered new evidence linking the temple to the slaughter and sale of tigers and the illegal cross-border trade of live cats. Tiger Temple staff claim allegations against the facility are unfounded, and that it is better equipped to care for the tigers than government authorities. Owners now hope to secure a zoo licence with the aim of creating a legal tiger sanctuary, a move Cee4life has described as "disturbing".