Further fueling fears that a Thai temple tourist-trap is involved in wildlife trafficking, authorities have discovered at least 40 dead tiger cubs stored in a freezer at the temple.
Thai police and wildlife officials begun raiding the Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua Temple in Kanchanaburi province on Monday. During the ongoing operations to remove 137 endangered tigers from the complex, Reuters reports that the 40 tiger cub carcasses were found in a freezer in the kitchen area of the Buddhist temple. Along with the cubs, the authorities also found the body of a binturong, a protected species often referred to as a “bearcat.”
"We found 40 tiger cubs today, they were aged about one or two days when they died but we don't quite know yet how long they have been dead," police colonel Bandith Meungsukhum told AFP New Agency.
The temple is now threatened with a new criminal complaint, although they deny any allegations they have ever trafficked animals on the black market or committed any animal abuse.
In a recently reshared statement on its Facebook page, the Tiger Temple Thailand said: “Cubs do occasionally die for various reasons, most often when a new mother lacks the experience to properly care for them. In the past, as per Buddhist customs, these tiger cubs were cremated.
“In 2010, the ex-vet of Tiger Temple changed this policy. Instead of cremation, the deceased cubs were preserved in jars or kept frozen. We have documented all the deaths from 2010 and have photographic evidence of them still being within the Temple.”
Nevertheless, authorities believe something more sinister is afoot. Speaking of the 40 cub bodies, Adisorn Nuchdamrong, deputy director-general of the Department of National Parks, told Reuters: "They must be of some value for the temple to keep them. But for what is beyond me.”
It is well documented that tigers parts – including their whiskers, organs, blood, to flesh – are used in Chinese medicine.
These raids have come at the conclusion of a 15-year cat-and-mouse battle between the temple and the authorities. Although anecdotal reports and animal rights groups have often pressured authorities to investigate the temple on grounds of animal abuse and illegal trafficking, the secular Thai government is often hesitant when dealing with religious groups.
Despite the widely-held suspicions, the temple attraction still rakes in an estimated $3 million every year. The temple has become a popular attraction for tourists who can pay a cash-only “donation” for the opportunity to take close-up photographs and selfies with the tigers or even pet and feed them with bottles. But while social media pages for the hashtag #tigertemple were previously filled with wide-eyed Western tourists posing with tigers, the feeds are now stocked with images showing the grim reality behind the selfies and social media fodder.