BANGKOK – Thailand’s infamous Tiger Temple that was shut down by the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) after discovering a grotesque operation where tiger parts were harvested for magic amulets and energy drinks is set to re-open in March under a new name and venue.
Just eight months after officials raided and shut down the temple, the people behind the defunct Tiger Temple Co.Ltd, changed its name to Golden Tiger (Thailand) Co. Ltd. on February 3, 2017 to distance the zoo venture from the previous Tiger Temple scandal.
In December the company requested approval to buy 105 tigers from the Mali-Salika Zoo in central Thailand, which had filed papers to shut down.
Adisorn Noochdamrong, the former deputy director of national park department who now serves as the ministry’s ombudsman who led the June raid on the so-called Tiger Temple, told Khaosod News that the project is perfectly legal, as the zoo was registered two months prior to the police operation beginning.
Adisorn said they have the right to do that as it won’t be the animals rescued from the former venue, but rather 105 tigers transferred from Mali-Salika a commercial Zoo in Nakhon Nayok province, which has filed papers to shut down. Mali-Salika is apparently a zoo in name only: It breeds tigers but has never admitted tourists, according to a National Geographic report.
Adisorn said he doesn’t know whether the new Golden Tiger (Thailand) Co. Ltd has paid any money to the owners of Mali Sarika Commercial Zoo, as the wildlife department hasn’t authorized the purchase because the animal enclosures weren’t yet finished.
Though he said the transfer is legal, he cast doubt on claims the zoo will open in March. Construction is not finished and wildlife officials will have to inspect whether it can actually accommodate that many tigers.
According to the Tiger Temple website it plans to re-open in March with tour companies already selling tours for a 30 person per day breakfast with monks and tigers at the site for 10,550 baht for one person.
The former Tiger Temple was a major tourist attraction for more than two decades, charging foreigners to visit more than 100 tigers kept without any permits.
Abbot Phra Wisutthisarathen, known locally as Luang Ta Chan, and his associates were charged with illegally selling and possessing protected animals. Phra Wisutthisarathen has repeatedly denied the allegations and has remained free, along with his associate while the case stalls.
Adisorn, who was in charge of the case until his transfer last month, said the cases has yet to reach the prosecutor’s office and blamed the police.
World Animal Protection has called for the DNP to refuse Golden Tiger Co Ltd a license and to impose a breeding ban.
Dr Jan Schmidt-Burbach, a senior wildlife advisor at World Animal Protection said “Tiger venues need to be stopped in their tracks because they clearly have links to the dark side of wildlife trafficking rings.”
Last year World Animal Protection released a study on tigers used for entertainment in Thailand which documented a 33% increase in the number of tigers at tourism facilities over a five-year period.