BANGKOK—A new zoo is planned in western Thailand right next to the closed Buddhist 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 Tiger Temple, the temple’s lawyer, Saiyood Pengboonchu, said last Friday. A person answering a phone number listed for the new zoo’s holding company denied any affiliation with the zoo and hung up.
Tiger Temple had operated in Kanchanaburi province for more than a decade despite concerns about trafficking and possible mistreatment of its tigers. 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.
Police are still investigating possible criminal charges against temple employees and monks.
Phra Wisutthi Sarathera, the temple’s abbot, denied any wrongdoing and told reporters last October that he wanted to open a zoo with new tigers.
While Saiyood denied any links between the temple’s zoo and the planned zoo, 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 license needed for another tiger entertainment venue to be opened,” says World Animal Protection, a London-headquartered animal welfare agency.
A zoo license 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 10 acres right next to the old temple.
Thailand has over 1,000 captive tigers, but less than 4,000 remain in the wild, according to the World Wildlife Fund. In China the elite eat ground tiger bones as medicine, and tiger penises as an aphrodisiac. Tiger hides can sell for tens of thousands of dollars in Beijing.
Thai police who raided the Tiger Temple found tiger skins and teeth and thousands of amulets made from tiger bone. They also found 60 cub carcasses stuffed in freezers and floating in formaldehyde in jars. The 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,” says 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 get licenses from Thailand’s Department of National Parks to transport tigers from other zoos. Those licenses could be denied if the owners are under criminal investigation.