Over the past week, officials with Thailand’s Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) have been working to remove more than 100 adult tigers from a Buddhist temple to shelters elsewhere. The Wat Pa Luangta Maha Bua Yannasam-panno temple, also known as the Tiger Temple, has long promoted itself as a spiritual center where people and tigers lived in harmony. The temple charges tourists as much as $140 apiece for the chance to bathe, hand-feed and play with the tigers.
During the removal process, Thai authorities were made aware of 40 dead tiger cubs in a freezer at the temple. Authorities say they don’t know why the cubs were kept but plan to investigate. An official said the department would perform DNA tests on the seized tigers and the dead cubs to see how they might be related. The cubs did not appear to be missing any parts and there was no indication yet how they died.
The temple is under investigation on suspicion of illegally trading in tigers. The investigation was sparked by a former veterinarian’s report that three live adult tigers had vanished. Tiger parts, while illegal to sell, are in high demand in Asia, particularly China, for use in traditional medicine. Tiger cubs often are sold in large jars of wine as wildlife wine, which is believed to provide health benefits. Last month, a Vietnamese man was arrested carrying four frozen tiger cubs.
The temple claims that the cubs all died of natural causes and were preserved by a veterinarian, possibly to prove that the bodies had not been sold on the black market. The temple also alleges that DNP officials were “fully aware” of the presence of the cub bodies. However, wildlife officials said that only one of the dead cubs found had been reported to the government as required by law.
The temple has been criticized by animal rights activists for years because of allegations it is not caring for the animals properly. At its peak, the temple reported having 148 tigers, nearly all of them adults. Earlier this year, the wildlife agency seized 10 of the tigers before the temple won a court order halting the removal. After successfully challenging that order, the authorities resumed removing the animals on Monday. By Wednesday evening, 64 more tigers had been removed and the remaining 73 tigers are expected to be removed by Saturday.