More than half the tigers rescued three years ago from Thailand's notorious Tiger Temple have died, authorities said Monday.
Eighty-six of 147 tigers seized developed laryngeal paralysis and canine distemper, diseases they were vulnerable to because of inbreeding at the sprawling complex where tourists were allowed close contact with the large cats.
The Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua or Tiger Temple, located west of Bangkok, allowed tourists to hand feed the tigers, hold the cubs and take close up photos until the government seized 147 cats after reports of wildlife trafficking and animal abuse
The tigers were relocated to two state-run sanctuaries. But officials soon noticed the effects of inbreeding "resulting in disabilities and weakened health condition," said Patarapol, head of the Wildlife Health Management Division.
The temple in the western province of Kanchanaburi had gained international fame as a sanctuary run by Buddhist monks.
But when police raided the temple in 2016, they found tiger bones, skin, teeth and at least 1,500 amulets made from tiger parts. They also found carcasses of 60 cubs stuffed in freezers or preserved in formaldehyde-filled jars.
No one connected to the temple has ever been prosecuted.
Authorities estimate there are some 1,000 tigers in captivity in Thailand, but only about 200 in the wild.