'Tiger temple' monk nabbed with skin, fangs
THAI authorities yesterday caught a monk trying to leave the controversial "tiger temple" with skins and fangs, the latest discovery to fuel long-running accusations that the facility is involved in the illegal wildlife trade.
They also uncovered a trove of animal parts - around 20 jars of preserved tiger parts containing "both whole bodies and organs to be used for medicines", said Adisorn Noochdumrong, the deputy director of Thailand's parks department.
A live lion, hornbill, sun bear and banteng (an endangered species of wild cattle) were also found inside the temple compound.
Dozens of police and park officials have been stationed at the Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua temple in western Kanchanaburi province since Monday, after receiving a court order to remove over 100 adult cats from the complex.
For decades the infamous temple has been a popular stop for tourists who pay a steep fee to pet and be photographed with the predators - which animal rights groups say are heavily sedated.
"Today we found tigers skins and amulets in a car which was trying to leave a temple," said Mr Adisorn of the fleeing monk.
The discovery comes after the authorities found about 40 dead tiger cubs inside a freezer at the temple on Wednesday.
Mr Adisorn added that a search of several monks' quarters turned up more animal body parts, adding to the two full-body tiger skins, around 10 fangs and dozens of smaller pieces of tiger fur that were seized earlier.
Animals rights groups and conservationists have long accused the temple of secretly acting as a tiger farm and making huge profits by selling the animals and their parts on the black market for use in Chinese medicine.
Efforts to shut down the temple over the years have been complicated by the fact that secular Thai authorities are often reluctant to intervene in the affairs of the clergy.
The temple has always denied trafficking allegations.
Officials said they have removed 84 tigers so far this week and are transferring the animals to breeding centres.