Thai authorities are readying tranquillizer guns to remove the first set of 137 tigers from a Buddhist temple amid allegations of wildlife abuse. Officials have already taken away three animas from the popular tiger temple in Kanchanaburi province.

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The Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation, said the tigers would be relocated from the monastery to animal refuges despite strong objections from the temple authorities. More than 2,000 personnel comprising veterinarians, wildlife officials, local police and army, have been deployed to undertake the week-long operation.

Wat Pa Luangta Maha Bua Yannasampanno, known as "Tiger Temple", is a popular tourist spot where visitors usually play with cubs and tigers. Tourists are known to bottle-feed the cubs and take selfies with the tigers. Government officials say the tigers are being mistreated at the temple and also pose a threat to visitors.

Though the monks at the temple, which claims itself as a wildlife sanctuary, resisted the removal of the big cats, they had no option other than pulling back when a court order was issued. The temple has recently come under increasing scrutiny for alleged wildlife abuse and trafficking.

"We have a court warrant this time, unlike previous times, when we only asked for the temple's cooperation, which did not work. International pressure concerning illegal wildlife trafficking is also part of why we're acting now," Adisorn Nuchdamrong, deputy director of the Thai department, told Reuters.

The tigers will be initially relocated to Khoazon Wildlife Breeding Centre in Ratchaburi province and from there they will be transferred to different locations.

Shortly before the Thai authorities began their operation at the temple, Wildlife Conservation Office director Teunjai Noochdumrong told CNN: "Yesterday was mayhem. When our vet team arrived, there were tigers roaming around everywhere. Looks like the temple intentionally let these tigers out, trying to obstruct our work."

Thai Tiger Temple
A sedated tiger is stretchered as officials start moving tigers from Tiger Temple Chaiwat Subprasom/Reuters