KANCHANABURI – Deputy Chief of Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation said authorities are searching for the head abbot of the Tiger Temple after he vanished in the wake of raids which discovered evidence implicating the temple in wildlife trafficking.
Monks at the Tiger Temple told officials abbot Phra Visuthisaradhera, aka Luangta Chan, left the complex May 29, one day before more than 1,000 officers and personnel arrived to seize its 137 tigers in a seven-day operation that led to the discovery of frozen tiger cubs, a hoard of other wildlife kept secretly and evidence suggesting commercial products were made there from endangered animals.
Police have yet to seek a warrant for the abbotâ€™s arrest or accuse him of any specific crime. The only figures subject to criminal action so far are five people charged with the illegal trade and possession of protected species.
Adisorn Nuchdamrong, Deputy Chief of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP), said authorities are now seeking to revoke the temple’s right to use the land while forestry officials will press for charges of forest encroachment, the Khaosod Reported
Chayapong Pongsida, Deputy ChiefÂ of The Office of National Buddhism (ONB) said a probe will be launched into the claims and if found to be true the temple will be relocated or closed.
Mr Adisorn said the department has filed criminal complaints against three monks and two laymen with Sai Yok police. He said the department will work with authorities to expand the investigation as the temple is suspected of engaging in illicit wildlife trading.
Despite the overwhelming evidence the temple still denies the trafficking allegations.
According to Sai Yok police superintendent Pol Col Bundit Muangsukham, eight counts of charges, including the latest for forest encroachment, have been lodged against five people, including three monks, over the past week.
He said police have not yet summoned abbot, Phra Sutthi Sarathera, for questioning but are expected to do so soon the Bangkok Post reported.
The long list of charges follow the DNP’s operation to relocate 147 tigers from the temple early last week after the Kanchanaburi Provincial Court approved a warrant for the department to search the temple.
Authorities then found two tigers not on the temple’s original list, bringing the total number of tigers in the temple’s possession to 149. The tigers were moved to Khao Pratap Chang and Khao Son wildlife breeding centres in the Chom Boeng district of Ratchaburi.
Authorities later discovered the carcasses of 70 tiger cubs, two tiger pelts, a large number of talismans made from tiger carcasses, six hornbills and 27 sheets of processed wood, including teak. Plastic bottles with labels advertising their contents as supplements with “tiger power” were also found.
Mr Adisorn said DNA tests of the tigers and carcasses will be conducted and all the dead cubs will undergo an autopsy to determine the cause of death. Results are expected in two weeks.
He said there are still some animals left in the temple that need to be relocated including a horse, wild boar, buffaloes, an antelope and a barking deer.
National police chief Pol Gen Chakthip Chaijinda said police will investigate whether the temple is involved in wildlife trafficking and will step up a crackdown on illegal possession of wild and protected animals.
He said the DNP may have to consider revoking the temple’s zoo license.