KANCHANABURI – Police investigating Thailandâ€™s now infamous “Tiger Temple” found what they believe was a slaughterhouse and tiger holding facility used in a suspected animal trafficking network.
The discovery Tuesday is the latest in a growing scandal surrounding the Buddhist temple, which was a popular tourist attraction that charged admission for visitors to take photos with the tigers and walk them on leashes. Last week, authorities removed more than 137 tigers from the temple grounds and also found 40 dead tiger cubs in a freezer and 20 more preserved in jars.
Acting on a tip, police raided a home Tuesday about 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the temple in Kanchanaburi province in western Thailand and found four live tigers and a dozen empty cages, said police Col. Montri Pancharoen, deputy commander of the Crime Suppression Division, which oversaw the raid.
Investigators believe the house, in an isolated area and surrounded by tall fences, served as â€œa holding facility and slaughterhouse,â€ he said.
â€œWe believe it was used by the Tiger Temple to hold live tigers before slaughtering them for their skins, meat and bones to be exported outside the country, or sent to restaurants in Thailand that serve tiger meat to tour groups,â€ he said.
The house had a work area with a large chopping board and a variety of knives which authorities believe served as the slaughter area, he said.
Police detained two caretakers at the facility who claimed the tigers were the private property of the homeâ€™s owner, said Montri. Police were searching for the owner who was not there during the raid.
â€œThe Tiger Temple is just a starting point, or a supplier,â€ he said. â€œWe have information that the Tiger Temple is not the only place that supplies tigers to illegal smugglers.â€
Animal rights activists have long accused the temple of mistreating its tigers. The government suspects the monks have been involved in illegal breeding and trafficking of the animals.
The monks resisted previous efforts to take away the tigers, but relented last week after police obtained a court order.
The seizure of tigers started on May 30. Two days later authorities discovered the 40 dead tiger cubs in a temple freezer. A day later, police stopped a monk and two other men in a truck leaving the temple with two tiger skins, more than 700 vials containing tiger skin and a suitcase with tiger teeth, officials said.
According to the Bangkok Post, Phra Wisutthi Sarathera or Luang Ta Chan, head abbot of the Tiger Temple will hold a briefing on Thursday as 2,000 wild animals remain at his temple in Kanchanaburi province after all 137 tigers were relocated, according to the temple’s legal team.
The lawyers of abbot told reporters on Monday that the 61-year-old abbot Phra Wisutthi Sarathera, also known as Luang Ta Chan, would return to the temple for a news conference on Thursday to tell his side of the story.
The whereabouts of the abbot has been unknown since the eve of the official raid, it was reported that he was ill after returning from Indonesia.
The Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation earlier filed complaints against the abbot for abusing tigers by putting them on display and shows to entertain tourists.
About 2,000 animals remain at the temple, which is now suffering food shortages. They include boars, horses, various kinds of deer, cattle, and a male lion which appeared depressed and did not eat. The management of the temple has yet to present documents to prove the legal ownership of the animals.
Local labour officials went to the temple in the morning to gather the profiles of 72 employees of Tiger Temple Co who lost their jobs as the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation took the tigers.
Source: Bangkok Post, The Associated Press
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