Thai Tiger Temple scam: monk caught with skins, fangs

03 Jun 2016


In what is proving to be a major scandal, Thai authorities uncovered a trove of animal parts and intercepted a monk trying to leave the controversial 'Tiger Temple' with skins and fangs Thursday, the latest discovery to fuel accusations that the zoo is involved in the illegal wildlife trade.

Dozens of police and park officials have been stationed at the Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua temple in western Kanchanaburi province since Monday after receiving a court order to remove over 100 adult cats from the complex.

For decades the temple has been a popular stop for tourists who pay a steep fee to pet and be photographed or take selfies with the predators - which animal rights groups say are heavily sedated. Indians form a large proportion of the visitors.

"Today we found tiger skins and amulets in a car which was trying to leave the temple," Adisorn Noochdumrong, the deputy director of Thailand's parks department, told AFP.

He said around 10 tiger fangs were also found in the truck, and that some of the hundreds of amulets contained tiger parts.

In addition to skins that were later found in monks' quarters, officials discovered a living lion, hornbill, sun bear and banteng (an endangered  species of wild cattle) inside the temple compound, he said.

They also uncovered around 20 containers of preserved tiger parts holding "both whole bodies and organs to be used for medicines," Adisorn told AFP.

The discovery comes after authorities found dozens of dead tiger cubs inside a freezer at the temple Wednesday. (See: Thailand Tiger Temple scandal: 40 cubs found dead in freezer).

Animal rights groups and conservationists have long accused the temple of secretly acting as a tiger farm and reaping huge profits from selling animals and tiger parts on the black market for use in Chinese medicine.

The temple has always denied trafficking allegations and says it provides higher quality care for the animals than official park facilities.

Repeated efforts to shut down the site over the years have been delayed and complicated by the fact that secular Thai authorities are often reluctant to intervene in the affairs of the clergy.

Park authorities said they have removed 84 tigers so far this week and are transferring the animals to nearby breeding centres.

Police said they have not filed any criminal charges yet and are still investigating the temple.

All the tigers involved are Indian Bengal tigers, as Thailand's native tigers are long extinct.

Previous raids of the temple revealed that dozens of hornbills, jackals and Asian bears were also being kept at the sanctuary without proper permits.

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