Thai Officials Rescue Tigers From Popular Buddhist Temple

Tiger Temple
A sedated tiger on a stretcher is taken away from Thailand's Tiger Temple, in Kanchanaburi province, May 30. For years, authorities have been trying to remove the tigers from the controversial sanctuary. Chaiwat Subprasom/Reuters

Thai wildlife authorities have begun rescuing tigers from the Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua Tiger Temple, a Buddhist sanctuary that's popular with tourists. The site is home to 137 tigers, which officials say the monks had illegally bred or trafficked.

The operation to remove the tigers involves 1,000 people and will last all week, the BBC reports. So far, authorities have rescued just six of the animals, though they are promising to take the rest. The operation was hindered after the monks initially refused officials entry and then released some of the tigers.

Thai officials have been trying to seize the big cats for years, but this is the first time that they have had a warrant to do so. The tigers will go to animal shelters in Thailand. It is not known whether the monks will face any further punishment.

The monks, who deny all charges against them, have long encouraged tourists to visit the temple and take photographs with the tigers for a fee. The practice continued despite Thailand banning the temple last year from charging tourists money.

Tigers are not the only animals the monks are accused of illegally holding. In February 2015, Thai authorities found jackals, hornbills and Asian bears at the temple, none of which the monks had the proper permits for.

Thailand is a known hub for the trafficking of exotic animals, the Guardian reports. In 2015, the country introduced animal welfare laws to try and stop incidents of abuse, though campaigners say these have not been properly enforced.