After being accused of animal abuse for years and recently threatened to have the tigers taken away, authorities and monks from the Tiger temple in western Kanchanaburi province have reached an agreement were they are now banned from breeding the animals and from charging tourists an entry fee, but they get to keep their nearly 150 tigers.

The Department of National Parks (DNP) raided the temple last month after numerous complaints accused the temple of illegal wildlife trade and also to investigate the alleged disappearance of 3 tigers who may have been sold on. During the raid they seized dozens of animals for lacking the proper documentation, including 6 Asian black bears being illegally kept.

The Bangkok temple claims to be the home to tigers rescued from poachers and dealers and that they breed the animals only for conservations purposes. However, animal activists have had an eye on the temple for years and say undercover investigations prove they are in fact linked to trafficking with the black market.

The monastery started taking care of tigers rescued from smugglers in 2001. Between 2005 and 2008, Care for the Wild conducted undercover investigations that showed the temple no longer ran as a sanctuary for rescued animals but as a breeding facility without a license.

They also documented that at least 7 tigers disappeared from the temple and 5 magically appeared during the investigation period, even though the exchange or sale of tigers is against the law in Thailand. Further evidence gathered showed that the temple had regular dealings with a tiger farm in Laos, where they sent older tigers to receive younger ones. Investigators found out that names were transferred from one tiger to another one often, probably to hide the large scale of exchange.

Investigators also discovered that the tigers did not in fact roam freely, but they were confined in cages for most part of the day. The cages registered were smaller than the minimum size stated by law and they had no enrichment for the animals.

During visiting hours, the animals were seen being badly mistreated by staff to get them into ‘photographic positions’. Staff were seen dragging the tigers by their tails and hitting them with sticks.

“Tiger Temple markets itself as this haven of tranquillity where tigers are rescued from poachers to live a happy life,” head of Born Free USA Adam Roberts told VICE News. “The reality is that it’s a zoo at which the tigers are kept in very poor conditions, fed inappropriate food and forced to interact with tourists for photo opportunities.”

Under this new agreement that bans them from breeding and profiting from the tigers, the monks have also agreed that the tigers are officially “confiscated state assets and under the responsibility” of the DNP, but that they are and will be responsible for their maintenance.

Any breach of the deal will result in the animals being seized immediately.

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