KANCHANABURI — A Buddhist temple under criminal investigation for alleged animal trafficking filed a defamation complaint Thursday against an Australian activist.
The charge against animal rights activist Sybelle Foxcroft was filed by a representative of Wat Pha Luangta Bua Yannasampanno, aka the Tiger Temple, that until being raided and shut down last month charged tourists to pose for photos with the 147 tigers kept there.
Siri Wangboonkerd, a lay assistant to the temple’s abbot, said Foxcroft defamed his organization by publishing a report in which she accused the temple of selling tigers to buyers in Laos, which is illegal under both Thai and international law.
“It’s a clear case of defamation,” Siri said Thursday at Sai Yok Police Station. “She tried to target Phra Visuthisaradhera, the abbot of [the temple].”
The report compiled by Foxcroft, who heads an animal rights group called Cee4Life, said the temple not only sold three tigers across the border, but also routinely abused the wild cats and kept them in filthy conditions while profiting from tourists’ entrance fees.
Foxcroft could not immediately available reached for comment.
In December 2014, three of the temple’s tigers disappeared and its veterinarian said they had been sold after their microchip tracking devices had been removed.
The temple acknowledges selling the tigers, but a lawyer has previously said it was done so legally.
Foxcroft’s work was the basis for a National Geographic report in January. A temple lawyer responded by threatening to sue the magazine. A suit has yet to be filed.
The temple itself is under criminal investigation for trafficking after wildlife officials raided the venue in early June and discovered dozens of dead tiger cubs, tiger body parts, magic amulets made from endangered species and other protected species.
The operation resulted in closing the temple, which for about two decades had kept the tigers without the required legal permits.
Legal action against the temple and its leadership appears to have been stalled, as abbot Phra Visuthisaradhera, aka Luang Ta Chan, has refused to meet with police, saying he’s too ill.