Authorities with Thailand's crime suppression division believe they have discovered a tiger slaughterhouse and holding facility used by the popular tourist destination Tiger Temple, which is now under investigation for illegal wildlife trafficking. Thai police captured and relocated 137 live tigers from the temple's facilities during a raid last week.
The residential property, located approximately 30 miles from the tiger "sanctuary," was raided by officials today who acted on a tip, according to The Guardian. Police identified animal transport equipment, freezers, tiger food storage, a large chopping block, and a multitude of knives inside the isolated house.
"We 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," police colonel Montri Pancharoen, deputy commander of the crime suppression division, told The Guardian.
Four live tigers, ranging from one to 10 years old, were also located in cages on the Muang district property. Police questioned two keepers on site who said the animals belonged to the 68-year-old property owner, Thawat Khachornchaikul, according to the Bangkok Post.
Today's raid comes just days after wildlife authorities uncovered the bodies of 40 frozen tiger cubs inside an industrial-sized freezer at Tiger Temple, or Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua Yanasampanno. Thailand's Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) dictates that all tiger births and deaths should be reported to officials, however, no cubs had been mentioned for quite some time. A department spokesperson told National Geographic that temple monks had continued to illegally breed tigers, despite being mandated to stop.
The DNP also stopped a monk attempting to flee Tiger Temple in a vehicle carrying two full adult tiger skins, 10 fangs, and 700 vials containing pieces of tiger skin.
Tiger Temple representatives have since launched an uncensored smear campaign against local police and animal advocates on their Facebook page. The temple claims that allegations of abuse are "outright lies," and the work of the "DNP propaganda mill." In regards to the discovery of frozen tiger cubs, a spokesperson wrote that they "were kept as per the request of the previous vet [Dr. Somchai Visasmongkolchai]" who "made that decision probably to keep as proof against the allegations of selling cubs."
For 15 years, the temple successfully advertised itself as a destination where tourists could spiritually connect with the big cats, yet unequivocal evidence of abuse and trafficking have been reported by wildlife protection groups over the last decade. Recent allegations of dangerous activity involving both tigers and visitors finally resulted in Thai authorities securing a search warrant.
In 2010, investigative reporter Andrew Marshall discovered that Tiger Temple had donated 700,000 baht (at that time, worth $23,490) to Thai police, and that former Kanchanaburi police colonel Supitpong Pakjarung even went on to serve as vice president of the Tiger Temple Foundation. Marshall's revelations have left some wondering if, and for how long, the Thai government allowed the temple to conduct illegal business under its supervision.
In spite of years of criminal allegations, Thailand's wildlife department granted Tiger Temple a license to own and operate a zoo this April, which would allow Tiger Temple Company Ltd. to legally breed tigers.
Tiger Temple is denying all of the claims being made against it, and wrote that the skins and teeth intercepted on one of its monks came as "a shock."
Investigators plan to run DNA tests on the four tigers found at the suspected slaughterhouse, which will hopefully determine whether the animals have any connection to Tiger Temple.