6 min read

Men Caught Trying To Flee 'Temple' With Tigers' Body Parts

Following this week's discovery of 40 dead tiger cubs inside a freezer, believed to be intended for sale on the black market, Thailand's "Tiger Temple" just made itself an even bigger target to authorities.

On Thursday, a monk at the temple, along with two other staff members, attempted to flee from ongoing raids - with tiger skins, fangs and amulets made from tiger parts in tow, AFP reports.

An investigation into the monks' living quarters revealed 20 containers of preserved tiger parts. A living lion, sun bear, hornbill (a kind of bird) and endangered banteng cattle were also found inside the temple's compound, adding weight to wildlife trafficking allegations that have been made against it for years.

"This confiscation shows that the temple is likely involved in illegal tiger trade," Teunchai Noochdumrong, director of Thailand's Wildlife Conservation Office, told BBC News. "They are clearly violating the law in selling, distributing [and] transferring the protected animals or their parts."

"The recent discovery of the tiger skins and necklaces comes as a shock to us as well as the rest of the world," Tiger Temple wrote on Facebook in response. "We are disgusted at this discovery and we don't condone this. We are looking forward to the authorities bringing the culprits to justice."

Tiger body parts in particular are highly valuable in Asia, where they're sold on the black market to be used in traditional Chinese medicinal practices, such as tiger bone wine, a "potion" made from the bones of tigers that is mistakely believed to make its consumers strong and virile.

This is a jarring reality in a world where tigers are an endangered species - an estimated 7,000 of them are held in captivity in Asian countries for practices like tiger farming. In contrast, the estimated global total of tigers living in the wild stands at 3,200.

"A coalition of NGOs will be working together to try and help the government with the aftercare of the tigers that have been removed from the Tiger Temple," Tom Taylor, assistant director at Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand (WFFT), told The Dodo. Details on how aftercare efforts will proceed have not yet been finalized.

According to a recent Facebook post by WFFT, the abbot of the temple fired all his staff, leaving the remaining animals at the temple without staff care until their relocation is complete. "The WFFT, along with Thai Animal Guardians Association, are in talks with the authorities on how we can handle this situation and ensure that all the animals are cared for properly," the post reads.

The temple, also known as Wat Pa Luangta Maha Bua Yannasampanno, first made headlines earlier this week when wildlife authorities began the effort to remove and relocate all 137 of the tourist attraction's captive tigers to government sanctuaries. The temple brought in revenue from tourists who were allowed to get up close and personal with the big cats for photos.

The removal and relocation of all the temple's tigers is scheduled to conclude this week, and wildlife officials are expected to press charges against the temple.

Watch this video on why tigers shouldn't be used as entertainment: