UPDATE: Thai officials are now reporting that they have detained one of the “Tiger Temple” monks after he was caught trying to leave the country with a tiger skin and fangs. The temple now faces charges of illegally trafficking wild animal parts.

THIS MONDAY, THAI OFFICIALS BEGAN an operation to permanently remove the tigers from the infamous Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua Temple, otherwise known as “the Tiger Temple.” The Buddhist temple is a popular tourist attraction, as it offers the opportunity for visitors to pose with tiger cubs, but in the past few years, it has been accused of abusing the tigers and, more recently, of engaging in wildlife trafficking.

Matador’s own Turner Barr worked briefly at the temple before resigning in horror after he found that the cubs were being overfed, under-exercised, and separated from their mothers at too young of an age. He also noticed that there were many cubs, but far fewer adults, begging the question: what happened to the cubs?

The operation to shut the temple down has revealed that we didn’t know the half of it. 40 dead tiger cubs were found in the temple’s freezer. The temple claims that their cub death rates were “comparatively low,” and that they held onto the corpses in order to prove that they weren’t selling the tiger parts to dealers who would sell them for medicinal purposes.

Even so, a report released earlier this year stated that the temple was in fact trafficking the tigers through Laos. The World Wildlife Fund said in a statement:

This report reinforces long held suspicion that the Tiger Temple has been posing as a sanctuary for tigers while secretly acting as a tiger farm and selling tigers and tiger parts on the black market for an enormous profit. The facility does not have a license to breed, or even keep these tigers in captivity and it has repeatedly ignored Thai Government prohibitions against breeding tigers in captivity and allowing contact with the public.

Government officials have now successfully removed dozens of the living tigers from the temple, out of a total of 137. The hope is that not only will the temple have all of its tigers taken away from it, but that it will be legally prevented from acquiring more tigers in the future. The WWF is monitoring the situation closely, and is advocating for a further crackdown on the illegal tiger trade in Thailand. You can support them and their efforts here.

The temple is currently closed to the public, but it continues to operate, and is campaigning against the crackdown. Last year during a raid, the monks physically blocked the officials trying to remove the tigers, and as monks are generally revered in Thailand, the officials had to back off. While it is believed that they are making money off of the illegal wildlife trade, the majority of their money still comes from tourism.

The tigers themselves are being removed five at a time, and unfortunately must remain in captivity, as they have never developed the skills a tiger needs to survive in the wilderness.

If you are visiting Thailand, please: do not go to the tiger temple. No matter how nice a picture with a tiger cub sounds.

You can read more about the shutdown here, here, and here.

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