Damrong Pidech, the department chief, yesterday visited the temple's tiger zoo, well-known among tourists in Kanchanaburi, after a complaint that the temple was profiting from the animals by allowing tourist visits.
"I have come here to take a look at the living conditions of these tigers," he said.
"Frankly speaking, their living conditions are better than those in state-owned zoos.
"If I move them out of here, I am afraid their living conditions might not be as good," Mr Damrong said.
He said the department needed to closely cooperate with the temple to curb the tiger population.
He was concerned a rapid increase in tiger numbers will pose an added burden for the temple.
"As far as I know, the temple has a veterinary team to control the tiger population. The abbot told me he will separate male and female tigers during mating season," he said.
In 2001, the department found the temple was keeping seven tigers illegally. The department allowed the temple to continue taking care of them, while declaring them illegal possessions. Since then, the number of tigers at the temple has soared to 99.
The temple's abbot initially refused to allow officials to enter the zoo yesterday, fearing the animals might be taken away. He eventually allowed them in after 20 minutes of negotiations.
Phra Vissuthisaradhera, the abbot, said that he disagreed with the department's plan to reduce the tiger population by transferring some of them to state-owned zoos or wildlife breeding centres.
"I am not sure the new places will have good conditions like this place. We are very close to the tigers. The animals may suffer from stress if they are taken away," he said.
The department could control their numbers through birth control but then it would have to carry out the job by itself.
The temple spends 400,000 baht a day buying chicken carcasses to feed the tigers.
About 150 tourists, mostly foreigners, visit the temple weekly. The temple charges a 300 baht entrance fee for Thais and 600 baht for foreign tourists.
This brings in about 84 million baht a year for the temple.
The temple's tiger zoo is located on 30 rai of land. The temple has spent about 100 million baht building cement cages and installing closed-circuit cameras to monitor the animals.
A department source claimed the temple has no intention of controlling the tiger population as having lots of them is good for business.
There are 1,328 tigers at zoos nationwide, with 143 of them seized from illegal traders. The country has about 200 tigers living in the wild.