Monk among three arrested after animal skins, amulets, and engraved fangs, found hidden inside.
Stickers touting “Supplementary Food: The Power of Tiger” and “Young Antler Herbs” were found inside the temple along with equipment for cutting antlers yesterday.
Also yesterday, a monk and two temple officials, Kongkiat Janpeng and Nate Kulruangkrai, were found trying to sneak away with tiger skin, nine engraved tiger fangs and more than 1,000 tiger amulets. Each such amulet is stuffed with tiger skin. All the suspects, including a monk, are charged with violating laws.
Their arrest led to a raid of the uninhabited living quarters of abbot Luang Ta Chan, where a sizeable number of tiger skins and tiger amulets were found hidden inside many alms bowls.
“We suspect that monks might have been taking the tiger skin out of the temple under the pretext of doing their usual morning alms rounds,” said Adisorn Noochdumrong deputy director-general of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP).
He said his team had been breaking into many locked parts of the temple, officially known as Wat Pa Luangta Maha Bua Yannasampanno, to see what was being hidden.
“We have found more than 50 jars of pickled stillborn tiger cubs,” Adisorn said.
Meanwhile, Wildlife Conservation Office director Tuenchai Noochdumrong said officials had lodged complaints with police about animal carcasses being found inside the temple on Wednesday.
“As of now, we are trying to locate the more than 20 tiger cubs that seem to have disappeared from the temple despite being present for tourists to bottle-feed until very recently,” she said.
“We will seek help from police, military and administrative officials in trying to trace them.”
Tuenchai said these cubs were very young, possibly just a month or two old.
All these discoveries are fuelling speculation that the Tiger Temple, which once attracted hordes of tourists, might have been engaged in illegal wildlife trade.
However, Adisorn refused to confirm the accusation immediately.
“We will first be taking action against certain people over charges of illegal possession of protected wildlife,” he said, as his team continued to scour the grounds of the temple that spans over hundreds of rai. The DNP has also found a number of illegally felled logs inside the temple compound.
Meanwhile, further investigation is required to determine what exactly the Tiger Temple was engaged in. As of yesterday, there were just four monks in |residence. Normally, the abbot does |not stay in this monastery either.
Deputy National Police Commissioner Pol General Chalermkiat Sriworakhan said he had instructed investigators to dig deeper and nail down culprits. Last year, officials lodged a complaint against the Tiger Temple over the disappearances of three registered tigers. So far, the DNP team is moving 147 registered tigers out of the temple – 137 in an operation this week and 10 earlier this year. As of press time, 104 of the 137 tigers targeted for removal this week had been removed.
The tigers are being housed at two state-run breeding stations in Ratchaburi province.