Over half the tigers were diagnosed with a common illness in cats and tigers, however, the animals were so inbred they were unable to fight off the disease.
Buddhist temple Wat Pa Luang Ta Bua in Thailand’s Kanchanaburi province had been a popular tourist attraction until 2016 when authorities seized 147 of its tigers on the suspicion of wildlife trafficking.
Now, according to Sky News, more than 80 of those rescued animals have since died from a viral disease after being placed in two state-run sanctuaries.
The temple certainly appeared like a standard Thai tourist venue for visitors eager to see some wildlife, but in reality, it also partook in illegal breeding and trafficking.
A senior official from Thailand’s Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation explained that the tigers were found to have been susceptible to canine distemper virus upon being relocated. Their biological defenses had been so weakened by inbreeding that an estimated 86 tigers died in the last three years.
“When we took the tigers in, we noted that they had no immune system due to inbreeding,” said Prakit Vongsrivattanakul. “We treated them as symptoms came up.”
Most of the tigers in question were Siberian, according to Fox News. The animals have been dying at a staggering rate since May 2016, shortly after the raid on Wat Pa Luang Ta Bua, also known as “Tiger Temple.”
According to Thai PBS World, the Siberian tigers were bred in captivity and thus never developed a natural immunity to numerous diseases. The cause of death in these 86 animals seems to be Laryngeal tongue paralysis, which is common in cats and tigers, but proved fatal to these tigers with weak immune systems.
These weren’t quick deaths and didn’t all occur at once. All 86 tigers became sickened with the stress of living in captivity. Ultimately, they deteriorated so much that their bodies simply gave out.
While these deaths are tragic on their own, officials, unfortunately, had found even more horrific signs of foul play at the supposed sanctuary in 2016.
Many of Tiger Temple’s monks were suspected of illegally drugging the animals. Visitors often commented on how sedated the tigers appeared, though employees refuted anything of the sort. During the raid, however, Thai officials found a freezer of 40 dead cubs and 20 jars stuffed with baby tigers and their organs.
Officials also reported that one monk tried to escape the property in a truck — and that he was carrying a suitcase containing 700 vials of tiger skin and teeth.
Tiger cub carcasses seen in jars containing liquid at Thailand's Tiger Temple. 22 are chargedhttps://t.co/SYnB51scca
— China Xinhua News (@XHNews) June 3, 2016
Unfortunately, this isn’t just a problem at the Tiger Temple. Even across the world in Oklahoma wildlife has become the victim of violent indifference. Zookeeper “Joe Exotic” slaughtered five tigers and sold their cubs, for example.
But at Tiger Temple, not even wildlife conservation officials realized the extent of its crimes.
“I am quite shocked,” said director of Thailand’s wildlife conservation office, Teunchai Noochdumrong. “We all have heard concerns and allegations about this temple. I would never have thought they would be so blatant.”
Captive tigers develop stress and lose their natural predatory instincts over time. But even healthy conditions and enough nourishment can’t counteract those realities. Unfortunately, only 61 of the rescued animals remain alive.
The Siberian tiger is the largest tiger in the world and is currently listed as critically endangered. Sadly, that threat-level isn’t exclusive to them — as 97 percent of wild tigers have died in the last century from poaching and habitat loss.
If there is a silver lining to the news of the Tiger Temple’s activity, it is that the situation can remind people of how close we are to driving this apex predator to extinction — and to motivate them to do something before it’s too late.