BANGKOK — Former volunteers of the Tiger Temple said they were surprised when more than 1,000 tiger-skin amulets and other evidence of trafficking and worse were discovered recently at the complex.
Two former volunteers discussed their passion for the animals’ welfare, in hindsight two weeks after wildlife officials raided and shut the place down, at a panel discussion Wednesday night at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand alongside one of the commercial temple’s principal detractors, wildlife activist Edwin Wiek.
“It was a major shock,” Tanya Erzinlioglu, who said she worked at the temple for six years.
As for why they did not know what was going on days seemingly extensive evidence of wrongdoing was recovered from the site located west of Bangkok, Chatraporn Thamthong said that as a woman, she was not allowed to enter the monks and abbot’s areas, where huge tiger pelts were found earlier this month.
Missing at the discussion was Adisorn Noochdamrong, who led the operation for the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation, who canceled at the last minute.
Wiek, head of Wildlife Friends Foundation of Thailand, said the temple’s saga won’t be resolved until the tigers have a good home and the people who exploited them are prosecuted. He called attention to a new Wildlife Preservation Act being written that promises stricter regulations including stiffer penalties and agency cooperation with NGOs.
Erzinlioglu and Chatraporn said they were concerned about the tigers’ new home inside two government wildlife facilities in Ratchaburi province. Erzinlioglu said they don’t have access to nature as they’re kept in cages with concrete floors.
The Tiger Temple, aka Wat Pha Luangta Bua Yannasampanno, is closed to tourists now after years of proving a popular attraction where guests could pay to touch and take photos with the big cats.
After years of suspicion the temple was trafficking and exploiting the very animals it claimed to protect, wildlife officials finally began removing the animals on May 30. In the following days, officials discovered more than 40 dead tigers cubs, animal carcasses, jarred tiger parts marked “energy booster,” and a number of living unregistered animals including a lion. A monk was stopped trying to remove a load of tiger-skin amulets in a truck.
Trafficking and possession charges have been laid against several people involved in the temple’s operations, while its abbot of 22 years claims he had no idea anything improper took place there.
Police believe the temple was involved in a larger international trafficking ring and say they are still investigating.