Emaciated, Twenty-Year-Old Tiger Among 15 Big Cats Saved from Tiger Farm in Thailand after Historic Rescue Mission

Image: WFFT/Amy Jones

Twelve tigers and three leopards who have spent their lives in captivity have been rescued from a tiger farm in Thailand.

The undisclosed captive tiger facility in northern Thailand was visited by government officials on 16th December following legal action over alleged illegal wildlife trading. Veterinary teams and wildlife experts from Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand (WFFT) were on hand to rescue the seized animals, in the first part of the largest tiger rescue operation by an NGO in Thailand’s history. It is expected that 35 tigers in total will eventually be rescued from the farm.

The initial rescue was difficult and intense, with the first fifteen animals chosen on the basis of who required the most urgent medical care. Twelve elderly tigers and three ill leopards were selected, before being sedated, given initial health checks, and transported into transport cages that were loaded onto wildlife ambulances.

Emaciated, elderly tiger Salamas was among the first to be rescued. While most other tigers were sedated so that they could safely be moved into transport cages, Salamas’s worrying condition meant that the veterinary team advised against this due to the risk of her not waking up from the sedation.

Rescuers instead spent hours gently encouraging the twenty-year-old tiger with food so that she would walk from her concrete enclosure into the transport cage. It was feared that she was too weak to walk, but eventually she gathered her strength and stumbled over to the cage. She was then able to be lifted to the specialist wildlife ambulance that made the twelve hour overnight drive to the wildlife rescue sanctuary. Although alarmingly skinny and with huge patches of fur missing across her body, rescuers are hopeful that Salamas will now begin to recover.

Other big cats rescued include a timid female tiger the farm simply referred to as “A-1”, and a twenty-year old male tiger named Rambo who has breathing difficulties.

These animals have been kept in small, concrete enclosures for their entire lives, with many of them spending over twenty years in captivity. It is therefore believed that their new sanctuary home will be the first time that many of these animals will have felt grass beneath their paws and sunlight on their fur.

The rescue tigers and leopards will now receive urgent medical care at their new forever home at WFFT, which currently looks after nine other tigers, who were all previously rescued when a notorious Thai zoo closed down during the pandemic.

Located in Phetchaburi, the sanctuary’s dedicated Tiger Rescue Centre allows the rescue tigers to live freely in over seventeen acres of near-natural habitat, where the animals can run around, swim in the lake, and socialise with other tigers. In preparation for the latest rescue, WFFT secured additional land at the Centre and spent several months constructing more habitat space for the new arrivals.

The undisclosed tiger zoo and farm is not being named by WFFT, but online press articles report that the facility has been embroiled in legal action with government wildlife officials for many years. It has faced several government visits already, including in 2020 when the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) found evidence of wildlife trafficking such as a severed tiger’s head and other tiger parts.

Located in northern Thailand, the area is a known hotspot for illegal wildlife trafficking because of its proximity to the border of Lao PDR. It has been reported in the press that the facility has long been suspected of being used as a holding facility for wildlife before being shipped across the border.

The facility was reported to hold 46 tigers and cubs as of 2021.

Edwin Wiek, founder and director of Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand (WFFT) said:

“After months of planning the biggest tiger rescue by an NGO in Thailand’s history, we are thrilled to now finally give these magnificent animals a new life at WFFT’s Tiger Rescue Centre. Sadly, they will never be able to return to the wild, but we can offer them the next best thing: a safe, sanctuary home where they can roam forested land, socialise with other tigers, and even swim in the lake. We are grateful to the Thai government’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNP) for taking action against the illegal wildlife trade and for collaborating with WFFT to help give these tigers the second chance that they deserve.”

“The first twelve tigers and three leopards have been rescued, but there are many more who remain at the farm still waiting to be saved. We are desperate to return as soon as possible to rescue them, but as an NGO without government funding we rely solely on donations to make these rescue missions a reality. If you can, please support us at wfft.org/donate to help save the remaining animals from this tiger farm.”

All images: WFFT/Amy Jones