Business Insider — Thailand’s famous “tiger temple” is finally being closed down, after nearly two decades of controversy. The popular tourist attraction near Bangkok allowed visitors to handle and pose with the animals – if you’ve seen one of your Facebook friends (or Tinder matches) cuddling up to a tiger, it was probably there.
A raid by Thai police discovered 40 tiger cub carcasses preserved in freezers, while one monk was caught trying to flee with skins and fangs. Certain adults that had previously been micro-tagged were missing. Police have charged 22 people, including three Buddhist monks, with wildlife trafficking.
Authorities are currently removing and resettling more than 100 tigers to safe locations across the country, amid allegations that the temple was only ever a front for the lucrative but illegal trade in tiger parts – which the temple’s managers deny.
I first visited the site back in 2008, as part of a wider project tracking the expansion of tiger farms across China and South-East Asia. I wanted to investigate what captive tiger breeding meant for the dwindling population of the big cats in the wild.
Claims of conservation value were everywhere. Multilingual signs said the “temple” was rescuing tigers from a poaching epidemic that was targeting Thailand and its last remaining wild spaces. Tourist money was supposedly vital for the tigers’ Buddhist monk guardians to care for their wards.
Some of the tigers were paraded each day before being chained in an open-air display area, often in sweltering conditions, to indulge a growing tourist fad for selfies and intimate encounters with captive wildlife. Cubs were bottle-fed by monks, creating lucrative photo opportunities. Other tigers, unsuited to display, were kept out of sight in their cramped and unsanitary concrete enclosures. click here for more www.businessinsider.com