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An Inside Look at Controversial Thai ‘Tiger Temple’

Responding to abuse allegations, officials are removing tigers from a popular attraction in Thailand where tourists could pet the big cats.

Wildlife authorities in Thailand have raided a Buddhist temple where tigers are kept, taking away 40 of the animals by Tuesday and vowing to confiscate scores more in response to global pressure over wildlife trafficking.

The Buddhist temple in Kanchanaburi province west of Bangkok had more than 130 tigers and had become a tourist destination where visitors took selfies with tigers and bottle-fed cubs.

Above: Thai wildlife officials and security forces stand outside before removing a tiger from an enclosure at the Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua Tiger Temple in Kanchanaburi province, Thailand on May 30, 2016.

CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT / AFP - Getty Images

Wildlife activists have accused the temple's monks of illegally breeding tigers and selling off the big cats for slaughter, while some visitors have said the animals appear drugged. The temple denies the accusations.

Above: Officials prepare weapons with a sedation as they start moving tigers from the Tiger Temple on May 30.

CHAIWAT SUBPRASOM / Reuters

The temple promoted itself as a wildlife sanctuary where visitors could come and interact with the pets as a form of petting zoo, but in recent years it had been investigated for suspected links to wildlife trafficking and animal abuse.

Above: Thai wildlife officials load a cage containing a tiger onto a truck after they removed it from an enclosure at the Tiger Temple on May 30.

CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT / AFP - Getty Images

The raid, which began on Monday, was the latest move by authorities in a tug-of-war since 2001 to bring the tigers under state control. Officials moved seven tigers from the temple on Monday and 33 on Tuesday, leaving 97 still there.

Above: A sedated tiger is stretchered as officials start moving tigers from the temple on May 30.

CHAIWAT SUBPRASOM / Reuters

Previous attempts to inspect the tigers were largely blocked by the temple's abbots but in January and February wildlife officials removed 10 tigers. In response, temple officials earlier this year handed over control of the 137 tigers to allegedly to create a zoo -- but those plans went out the window this week.

Above: The entrance of the Tiger Temple in Kanchanaburi, Thailand, on February 25, 2016.

(C) Chaiwat Subprasom / Reuters

A tourist poses for a photo with a tiger at the Tiger Temple on April 24. Pakdijarung, the managing director of the Tiger Temple Co., Ltd. dismissed allegations as "false" and questioned whether the government was prepared to take on caring for nearly 140 tigers.

DIEGO AZUBEL / EPA

A tourist cautiously pets an adult tiger at the temple in 2003. Adisorn Nuchdamrong, deputy director-general of the Department of National Parks, said the department planned to remove all of the tigers and send them to state-owned sanctuaries. Officials also found also found six hornbills, which are protected birds, at a monk's residence, he said.

David Longstreath / AP file

A Bengal tiger plays with a ball in water in scorching hot weather at the Tiger Temple in 2009. The temple originally started after a group of monks allegedly saved a cub from poachers after they killed its mother in 1999.

RUNGROJ YONGRIT / EPA

A tiger licks the leg of worker at the temple in 2009. The temple sees between 300 and 600 visitors each day and the temple says that its entry fee goes to feeding the animals, and to fund building a larger tiger sanctuary to eventually allow the animals to live in an almost natural environment.

RUNGROJ YONGRIT / EPA

A tiger plays in the water with a trainer nicknamed "Super Tiger Man" at the Tiger Temple on April 24, 2016.

DIEGO AZUBEL / EPA

A Thai Buddhist monk feeds water to a tiger at the temple in 2015.

Sakchai Lalit / AP

A Buddhist monk walks with a tiger at the temple on April 24, 2016.

DIEGO AZUBEL / EPA

A tourist poses for picture at the Tiger Temple on Feb. 25, 2016.

Chaiwat Subprasom / Reuters

A Buddhist monk plays with a tiger at the temple in 2015.

(C) Athit Perawongmetha / Reuters
A tiger plays in the water at the temple on April 24, 2016. DIEGO AZUBEL / EPA

A Buddhist monk walks with a tiger at the temple on April 24, 2016.

Read More: 'Exploited': Officials Remove Tigers From Famed Temple

DIEGO AZUBEL / EPA