Thailand probes trafficking angle after finding 40 dead tiger cubs at temple

Forty dead tiger cubs found in a freezer by the wildlife authorities on Wednesday at a Tiger Temple in western Thailand.

Thailand's wildlife authorities found forty dead tiger cubs in a freezer at the controversial Tiger Temple in the west of the country.

Wildlife authorities have said they are investigating the trafficking angle after the dead cubs were discovered, The Nation reported. Earlier, 137 tigers were removed from the Kanchanaburi Tiger Temple. Authorities are now probing if there's any connection between the two events, the daily said.

The discovery of dead cubs at the Kanchanaburi temple followed a police and wildlife department operation that started on Monday to rescue all the living tigers from the Tiger Temple.

Police colonel Bandith Meungsukhum told AFP: "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."

Apart from the tiger cubs, a dead bear and various animal horns have also been found by the officials.

Adisorn Noochdumrong, the deputy head of Thailand's parks department, said they would file criminal charges against the temple for keeping the carcasses without permission. "The temple never registered these dead cubs, they are illegal," he said.

According to the wildlife officials, the whole complex is illegal and they have battled the monks for years to try and close it down. It has become complicated because the secular Thai establishment was reluctant to intervene in the affairs of the clergy.

Edwin Wiek, head of the Wildlife Friends Foundation of Thailand, told DPA news agency that the discovery of these dead animals proves that the temple has been engaged in illegal breeding and smuggling activities.

"Under the CITES [Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species] treaty, no wildlife farm or sanctuary can engage in the breeding of protected species. These animals were bred and hidden away. I believe that they were stored to be sold for parts on the black market," he said.

However, Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua, a temple representative, denied this allegation. He said that Thailand's Wildlife Conservation Office was informed about all of the cubs' births and deaths. He also said that the bodies were kept as a proof that none of them were sold in the black market.

Supitpong Pakdjarung, a former police colonel who runs the temple's business operation, said: "We have declared all the deaths to the officials over years," said "They've known about these carcasses for a long time."

Animal rights groups and conservationists have also accused the temple of being involved in the hugely lucrative black market wildlife trade. They claim that the temple was making tens of thousands of dollars by selling off the older cats and animal parts for use in Chinese medicine.

In a statement on its Facebook page, the temple said it was common for tiger cubs to be stillborn or die shortly after their birth. They also added that it used to cremate dead cubs, but the policy was changed in 2010 by a vet "probably to keep as proof against the allegations of selling cubs".