Thai wildlife authorities found 40 dead tiger cub carcasses in a freezer at an infamous Tiger temple in Thailand that operated as an admission-charging zoo, a national parks official said.
The discovery happened while authorities were removing mostly full-grown live tigers from the temple in Kanchanaburi province west of Bangkok following accusations that monks were involved in illegal breeding and trafficking of the animals.
The temple had become a tourist destination where visitors snapped selfies with bottle-fed cubs.
But the temple has been investigated for suspected links to wildlife trafficking and abuse. A raid that began on Monday is the latest move in a tug-of-war since 2001 to bring the tigers under state control.
The 40 cubs were found in a freezer where the temple staff kept food, said Anusorn Noochdumrong, an official from the Department of National Parks who has been overseeing the transfer of the temple’s 137 tigers to shelters. Since Monday, 60 have been tranquilized and removed.
“We don’t know why the temple decided to keep these cubs in the freezer,” Anusorn said. “We will collect these carcasses for DNA analysis.”
The cubs appeared to be up to a week old, he said. Authorities plan to file charges against the temple for illegally possessing endangered species, he said.
Tiger parts are used in traditional Chinese medicine.
“Foreign volunteers at the temple today told us about it and showed us the freezer. Perhaps they felt what the temple is doing isn’t right,” Adisorn said.
“They must be of some value for the temple to keep them,” he said. “But for what is beyond me.”
Officials wearing protective masks displayed the bodies of the cubs to media at the temple. Also on display was the body of a Binturong, a protected species commonly known as a bearcat, which the authorities found with the cub carcasses.
The temple said in a comment on its Facebook page that wildlife authorities had already been aware that the carcasses were in the freezer. The carcasses of cubs that had died had been kept, rather than cremated, since 2010 on the instructions of a former vet, it said.
However, Adisorn told Reuters that the department had not previously known about the cubs.
“The temple has notified us when grown tigers die, but never the cubs,” he said.
Thailand has long been a hub for the illicit trafficking of wildlife and forest products, including ivory. Exotic birds, mammals and reptiles, some of them endangered species, can often be found on sale in markets.
“It’s clear that the welfare of the tigers is not a priority and their lives are full of abuse and commercial exploitation for the entertainment of tourists,” said Jan Schmidt, Asia-Pacific Wildlife Adviser at World Animal Protection, in a statement.