Department defends Tiger Temple Co licence

Department defends Tiger Temple Co licence

Legal suit looms despite zoo approval

Work began before Songkran on a location to site the newly approved zoo near the existing park. (Photo by Cory Wright)
Work began before Songkran on a location to site the newly approved zoo near the existing park. (Photo by Cory Wright)

The Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation insists the granting of a zoo licence to the tiger temple in Kanchanaburi province was done legally under the proper regulations.

Adisorn Noochdamrong, the department's deputy chief, said Wat Pa Luang Ta Maha Bua, known as the Tiger Temple, had set up a company, the Tiger Temple Co, to run the zoo.

It submitted a request to the department in February to set up the private zoo and applied for the required licences.

He was responding to the Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand, which has criticised the department's granting of the zoo licence despite the fact the temple has faced legal troubles over the wildlife in its possession, including tigers.

The activist group has petitioned the Central Administrative Court to withdraw the zoo permit.

"The court has not yet issued a ruling, which in legal terms means the temple has done nothing wrong," said Mr Adisorn.

Also, he said no one from the company was involved with illegal wildlife possession.

"We have seen no reason to reject the company's proposal," he said.

Mr Adisorn said the activists should understand the case of the temple's zoo licence and the legal suit the temple is facing are different.

"The department will immediately revoke the licence if the temple or people from Tiger Temple Co are found guilty of wildlife crimes," he said.

The department's chief, Tanya Nethitammakul, granted a public zoo establishment and operating licence last Tuesday, covering 25 rai of land, to Tiger Temple Co in Sai Yok district of Kanchanaburi. The licence is effective until April 18, 2021.

Under the licence, the company can use wild animals, including tigers, for show. The department said being a legal zoo means the forest authority can come to check on the welfare of the animals and to make sure the facility is operating within legal requirements.

According to the Tiger Temple Co, the zoo licence was granted on several conditions, including requirements that it hire full-time qualified specialists and veterinarians, and limit the number of animals at the zoo.

Other demands are that animals not be abused or mistreated, that it introduce efficient waste management, and ensure the safety of visitors.

Currently, there are 137 tigers in the temple's care after the department relocated 10 tigers, with plans under way to transfer 10 more.

"We still have as our mission to relocate them all from the temple. If the company wants them back, it could be possible to buy them back from the department," said Mr Adisorn, adding his officers will set up a committee to set a price for each tiger.

The purchases would be open to all zoos, not just the tiger temple.

A department source said the price of a tiger might be over one million baht, which the temple could be able to afford as its revenue from visitors, particularly foreign tourists, is in excess of 200 million baht per year.

In 2001, forest officials found the temple possessed seven illegal tigers, but the temple denied purchasing them, insisting people donated them.

At the time, the authorities decided to allow the illegal tigers to remain at the temple as there was no other place capable of caring for them.

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