Over the years since Tiger Temple’s closure, For Tigers has been visiting and providing aid to the removed tigers at the facilities run by the Department of National Parks (DNP). This aid came in the form of building enclosures, providing enrichment, bringing carnivore supplement and even bringing food. As we reported, each time we visited tigers were sick suffering from breathing problems that did not seem to abate.
During the last two years, it appeared the issue was in the throat rather than canine distemper as first thought. Following this, the DNP performed a number of successful operations enabling the tigers to breathe again; however many still died.
Until now we were unable to confirm exactly how many tigers had died, though in our 2018 report we stated over a third. This estimate was because we were not permitted access to all tigers due to stress-related concerns and the possible infectious nature of the illness. However, current news reports from the Bangkok Post have now reported 86 tigers are dead.
Sadly, this does not come as a surprise to us as we had estimated a similar figure after visiting this year.
It is believed that the cause of the breathing issues and subsequent deaths of these tigers was due to laryngeal paralysis – an upper airway obstruction. This rare disorder is caused when the cartilages in the larynx do not close and open correctly during breathing.
One of the causes of laryngeal paralysis is as a congenital birth defect leading DNP staff and vets to suggest that this was caused by inbreeding at the Temple, especially as many of the tigers suffering are from the same families or of the Amur subspecies.
While symptoms can manifest over months or years, older tigers who succumbed at the DNP did not display any of the symptoms whilst at the Temple. A few of the top listed symptoms include:
● Harsh breathing sounds
● Raspy vocalisations
● Intolerance to exercise
However, laryngeal paralysis can also be acquired, and as the issue did not manifest itself until the tigers were removed to the DNP facilities it could be linked to stress; something that was also suggested by a DNP official last year, as well as by us.
Stress is an issue
This move may have been the main cause of the laryngeal paralysis, exacerbating a potentially pre-existing condition or predisposition. Stress, something we brought up in previous posts after our visits, is a contributing factor to a reduced immune system. This means the tigers were less equipped in dealing with sickness, potentially resulting in more tigers succumbing to the problem.
During this time, there was also inadequate funding, resulting in many of the tigers not receiving enough food, something that would also contribute to a weakened state, again causing the tigers' health to deteriorate.
Was this a rescue?
In the direct aftermath of the raid on Tiger Temple, activists proclaimed this move a rescue. However, For Tigers has consistently spoken against this reasoning. While shutting down the tourist interactions and heavy breeding was a positive, the fact that the tigers were moved into worse facilities with less enrichment, no enclosures and sub-standard nutrition was a huge step in the wrong direction.
Since the Temple's closure For Tigers is one of the few groups to Follow the Tigers, pushing to ensure they lead healthy and happy lives, while other organisations moved on after the so-called rescue.
Sadly, instead of punishing those in the wrong, the tigers were the ones to suffer. For Tigers believes that having the tigers remain at the temple facilities, but transferring care and ownership to the DNP would have been a superior option, reducing stress while utilising existing facilities of a higher standard than what the DNP can currently provide.
As we have done for the last three years, we will continue to provide support, enrichment and food all with the goal of improving the welfare of the Temple tigers. As always, we welcome and appreciate any support that can be given – remember that even the smallest donation can make a difference.
We are still moving forward with our next project to upgrade 20 of the cages with the aim of providing the remaining tigers with a better quality of life. Please stick with us through this endeavour.