KANCHANABURI – The head abbot of Thailand’s the controversial “Tiger Temple” has undergone four hours of surgery after being badly mauled by a seven-year-old feline, local media reported Sunday.
Luang Ta Chan of the Wat Pa Luang Ta Maha Bua temple in western Kanchanaburi province is recovering at the ICU unit of Kanchanaburi Hospital after the male tiger pawed his face and bit his right arm Saturday.
The attack took place after the abbot placed a rope around the tiger’s neck and tried to walk him. The elderly monk sustained injuries from the front of his head to his mouth and a broken arm.
Police colonel Sutthipong Pakcharung, deputy-chairman of the temple’s foundation, said the abbot was recovering.
“I would like to tell the disciples of Luang Ta Chan not to worry,” he added.
Hundreds of tourists visit the site daily, with most having their pictures taken while patting one of the 143 wild cats kept within the compound.
Temple officials say the animals are tamed and not dangerous – despite frightening incidents in the past.
Animal rights organizations have long denounced the conditions under which the tigers and others protected animals at the temple were kept and exploited.
The founder of One Green Planet, a wildlife protection organization, told the Chiang Rai Times last month, “Thailand’s tiger temple is at the heart of the unfortunate wild animal selfie trend that has emerged in the past few years.”
Nil Zacharias added: “Despite claims that monks are concerned with the welfare of the animals and focused on conservation and rescue work, we have featured in-depth articles exposing the cruel truth behind this terrible tourist attraction.”
In April, the Thai government’s wildlife department had threatened to transfer all the tigers to government facilities on the grounds that the temple did not have the required license.
In the end, however, wildlife officials contented themselves with registering the animals and equipping them with microchips.
An agreement was reached under which the temple can keep the tigers on the condition the animals and their offspring are registered as state assets, and are not exploited for commercial purposes.