Thai authorities uncovered a trove of animal parts and intercepted a monk trying to leave a 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 infamous temple has been a popular stop for tourists who pay a steep fee to pet and be photographed with the predators — which animal rights groups say are heavily sedated.
“Today we found found tigers 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.
In addition to more skins that were later found in monks’ quarters, officials discovered a live lion, hornbill, sun bear and banteng (an endangered species of wild cattle) inside the temple compound.
They also uncovered around 20 jars of preserved tiger parts containing “both whole bodies and organs to be use for medicines,” Adisorn said.
The discovery comes after authorities found dozens of dead tiger cubs inside a freezer at the temple Wednesday.
Animals rights groups and conservationists have long accused the temple of secretly acting as a tiger farm and making huge profits by selling animals and tiger parts on the black market for use in Chinese medicine.
Repeated efforts to shut down the temple 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.
The temple has always denied trafficking allegations.
Officials said they have removed 84 tigers so far this week and are transferring the animals to nearby breeding centres.
No criminal charges have been filed against the temple yet, according to police.
Previous raids of the temple revealed that dozens of hornbills, jackals and Asian bears were also being kept at the sanctuary without proper permits.