Over four years ago, 147 tigers were rescued from a controversial Thai Buddhist temple that acted as an animal attraction, but the future isn’t as bright for the tigers as it was once hoped. Since they were moved from the Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua temple (also known as Tiger Temple), 86 of those tigers have died, many from a virus contracted when the big cats were weakened by the stress of relocation.
The temple was raided by authorities back in 2015 due to alleged wildlife trafficking and unethical treatment of animals. Now, the tragic deaths have prompted conservationists to question whether authorities kept the tigers in safe conditions following their liberation from the temple.
Because the tigers likely would not have survived in the wild, they were being held in small cages at two breeding stations, where many contracted the canine distemper virus. This condition is treatable with proper food and supplements, but according to Edwin Wiek, founder of the Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand, a limited government budget made the necessary assistance impossible.
“To be very honest,” he said to the BBC, “who would be ready to take in so many tigers at once? The authorities should have asked for help from outside, but instead insisted on doing all work themselves.”
Although Thailand has pledged to reduce the number of tigers held in captivity, that number still continues to rise. According to the BBC, around 2,000 tigers are being held captive in Thailand, mostly by private individuals.