PATHUM THANI — A temple housing more than 200 turtles in an overcrowded pond said Tuesday it would soon complete construction of a second pond after being criticized online and visited by fishery officials.
Officials at Wat Chedi Hoi said they would finish work on the pond by Saturday, nearly a week after a fisherman Chaliew Tienwan, a confessed turtle lover, said he was inspired by a social media rant to bring officials there to inspect its overcrowded pond.
Chaliew said the temple wasn’t as foul as described in a Sunday post by Facebook user Saranrat Panyahlek, who wrote that many sad-looking turtles were floating around in water filled with rotten fruit. The post was shared more than 1,400 times, bringing it to the eyes of Chaliew.
“After I went down there myself, it wasn’t as rotten as the Facebook post said. Still, it was way too crowded for the turtles,” Chaliew said Sunday.
The temple defended its reptile care, saying few had died in the name of improving people’s spiritual fortunes.
“By releasing turtles here, people can exorcise their bad luck and make merit. Very few turtles have died,” said Somjit Kanlaya, the nun who feeds them vegetables.
Abbot Tongklung Suntaro said the temple was being slandered.
“In the past, there have been people with bad intentions who came into the temple grounds to take photos of the pond right before it was cleaned, so the pond looked dirty in the photos. The smell is from the turtle feces,” he said. “If I didn’t care for them, they would all be dead by now.”
More than 200 red-eared sliders, Amboina box turtles, yellow-headed temple turtles and snail-eating Mekong turtles reside at the temple, which claims they’ve been there for 30 years.
The pond is 4 meters by 30 meters, only a tenth of which contains water that is 40 centimeters deep, according to the officials who inspected it. It’s surrounded by a metal fence and covered by a green tarp.
People reportedly abandon turtles there for care, while others feed them to make spiritual merit.
The temple also takes donations in exchange for vegetables to feed them. Most visitors chuck the veggies over the fence, causing turtles to crowd each other to eat the food and create the stink.
The temple claims it changes the water twice a day.
Turtle welfare became an issue of national interest after the death of Piggy Bank, who had more than 900 coins surgically removed in March before dying of complications.
Temples in Thailand have a mixed reputation when it come to animal care. Many are sanctuaries for abandoned pets and animals, while others, such as Kanchanaburi’s popular Tiger Temple – now accused of actually trafficking them – and overcrowded venues such as Wat Suan Kaew in northwestern metro Bangkok.