New zoo planned next to Tiger Temple
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New zoo planned next to Tiger Temple

A new zoo is planned in Kanchanaburi right next to the closed temple that ran a lucrative tiger attraction while allegedly trafficking in the endangered beasts.

The new zoo should be completed in two to three months and has no affiliation with the Tiger Temple, said the temple's lawyer, Saiyood Pengboonchu, said Friday.

A person answering a telephone number listed for the new zoo's holding company denied any affiliation with the zoo and hung up.

The original attraction at Wat Pa Luang Ta Maha Bua had operated in Sai Yok district of Kanchanaburi for more than a decade despite concerns about trafficking and possible mistreatment of animals. Its 137 tigers were seized and the temple was closed for good last year after police unearthed evidence of possible involvement in trafficking tigers and their parts.

The rescued tigers were relocated to two sanctuaries. Police are still investigating possible criminal charges against temple employees and monks.

Phra Sutthi Sarathera, or Luang Ta Chan, the temple's abbot, denied any wrongdoing and told reporters last October that he wanted to open a zoo with new tigers.

While Mr Saiyood denied any links between the temple's zoo and the new attraction, animal welfare groups still are concerned the new zoo will be run by the same people.

"Given the appalling conditions at the former Tiger Temple, which ultimately led to its closure, we're urging the Thai government not to activate the full zoo licence needed for another tiger entertainment venue to be opened," said World Animal Protection, a London-headquartered animal welfare agency.

A zoo licence was issued in April 2016 to the then-vice president of the Tiger Temple, Supithpong Pakjarung, and the new zoo is now being built on 25 rai of land right next to the old temple.

Thailand has over 1,000 captive tigers, but fewer than 4,000 remain in the wild, according to the World Wildlife Fund. In China, ground tiger bones are in high demand as medicine, and tiger penises as an aphrodisiac. Tiger hides can sell for tens of thousands of dollars in Beijing.

Police who raided the Tiger Temple last year found tiger skins and teeth and thousands of amulets made from tiger bones. They also found 60 cub carcasses stuffed in freezers and floating in formaldehyde in jars. Police also believe a slaughterhouse at a separate location was where live tigers were butchered to eventually export to China.

"You'd breed the tiger, you'd raise it, you'd feed it, and then at some point, an order would come in," said Steve Galster, founder of the anti-trafficking Freeland Foundation. "You'd inject it, kill it, dismember it, put it in a body bag and sell it to the buyers for $30,000. That's the racket that was going on."

The owners of the new zoo still need to obtain licences from the National Parks and Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department to transport tigers from other zoos. Those licences could be denied if the owners are under criminal investigation.

Meanwhile, a tour company is promoting visits to the new zoo for $50 and up, with additional fees for add-ons such as feeding tiger cubs or posing for photos with one resting on one's lap. Thailand Tours Center had previously arranged bus trips for foreign tourists to the Tiger Temple.

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