By CS Thana
BANGKOK (AA) - Wildlife officials in Thailand removed three tigers Monday from a famous local Buddhist temple that claims it is a wildlife sanctuary, local media reported.
Officials from the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation carried out the operation at the temple located in Kanchanaburi Province west of Bangkok at around 5 p.m. (1200GMT).
The tigers were tranquilized and caged and will be relocated to a wildlife refuge, according to the Bangkok Post.
Earlier in the day, a local court had approved a search warrant to enter the temple in order to relocate all 137 tigers.
The Tiger Temple is known locally and internationally for its tiger population and allows visitors to walk alongside the tigers, take photos with them and feed the animals.
Conservationists accuse the temple of illegally breeding the tigers and drugging them to appear tame next to tourists for photos.
A recent investigation conducted by the National Geographic Magazine also claimed that the temple bred the tigers to be sold for parts to smugglers for use in traditional Chinese Medicines.
In April last year, the wildlife department had threatened to transfer all the tigers to government facilities on the grounds that the temple did not have the required license, but officials had contented themselves with registering the animals and equipping them with microchips.
An agreement was reached under which the temple was allowed to keep the tigers on the condition the animals and their offspring were registered as state assets, and not exploited for commercial purposes.
The founder of One Green Planet, a wildlife protection organization, told the Chiang Rai Times last year, “Thailand’s tiger temple is at the heart of the unfortunate wild animal selfie trend that has emerged in the past few years.”