Wildlife officials in Thailand have started removing some of the 137 tigers at a Buddhist temple after monks were accused of illicit acts.
Monks at the Tiger Temple in the Kachanburi province, a popular tourist destination, were allegedly involved in illegal breeding and trafficking of the exotic animals.
The temple has also faced criticism because the tigers appear to be drugged while tourists take selfies with them and bottle-feed the animals.
“Many people are asking why confiscate the tigers? We ask, Should the temple be allowed to continue abusing the tigers? Using them as ‘cash cows’ whether that be through photos with tourists or the buttering of them to sell their body,” said the Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand (WFFT).
“The answer in no, we fully support the Thai authorities in upholding the law and saving the tigers.”
Tiger Temple officials deny the accusations.
“If there’s any illegal trading or smuggling, there would have been … evidence,” said Supitpong Pakdijarung, managing director of the Tiger Temple Co., according to NBC.
“It has been more than a year and the case hasn’t gone anywhere.”
About 1,000 state personnel are expected to continue carrying out the operation for a week. Veterinarians and staffers from across the country volunteered to transfer the animals to two government animal centers elsewhere in Thailand.
— Edwin Wiek (@EdwinWiek) May 31, 2016
As of Monday night at 8:00 p.m. local time, a total of 7 tigers were transferred, according to WFFT. The organization said some tigers had been released by temple staff and were on the loose. The animals were later caught and moved out of the temple, but it caused a delay in the operation.
On May 31, teams stopped rounding up tigers late in the afternoon because it was too hot to sedate the animals. According to Edwin Wiek from WFFT, 20 tigers had been removed from the temple.
A group of almost a dozen NGO’s from Thailand and authorities will coordinate to decide what the next step for the tigers will be, says WFFT.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.