KANCHANABURI — A lion and a threatened wild species of cattle were among additional wildlife also discovered at the so-called Tiger Temple, where 40 tiger cub bodies were found yesterday, as wildlife officials filed criminal charges against the temple.
Wildlife officials have successfully removed 76 tigers from the Tiger Temple since Monday, while those running the temple seem to be keeping a safe distance.
Yanyong Lekavichit, a regional wildlife official, said the national parks department filed a charge of illegal possession of protected wildlife against the temple on Wednesday after a lion, banteng and a number of hornbills were found alive, hidden out of sight Wednesday afternoon. A photo also showed officials displaying a huge tiger skin recovered from the temple.
Yanyong said 61 tigers remained in the commercial facility, which for years staved off official interventions into its immensely profitable operation until this week when more than 1,000 officers and personnel arrived with a court order to seize the animals.
Monday saw seven tigers removed from the temple, formally known as Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua Yanasampanno, with 33 taken Tuesday, 24 on Wednesday and 12 as of noon Thursday. He said there has been no interference and all tigers should be placed in two wildlife breeding research stations in Ratchaburi province by Saturday evening.
“[We] don’t expect any heavy rain or our officers to be interrupted [by Tiger Temple staff], anymore,” the head of the Protected Area Regional Office 3 said Thursday. “As for rain, it could delay the veterinarians’ process of tranquilizing [the tigers.]
Reversal of Fortune
This week’s action is a dramatic turnaround for the temple which had seemed to operate with legal impunity. Former staff and a veterinarian accused it of outright selling several tigers, and it’s own lawyer acknowledged it was keeping wildlife illegally.
Recently it had sought a permit to operate a commercial zoo in a move that seemed likely to frustrate any further attempt to remove its hoard of wildlife.
Along with the discovery of 40 dead tiger cubs kept in a freezer vault, officials also found a dead bearcat, deer horns, a bull skull and tiger intestines Wednesday morning.
Asked about why dozens of dead tiger cubs were found inside a temple freezer, its legal representative, Saiyood Pengboonchoo, didn’t offer an answer, only saying he wasn’t present at the temple when the bodies were found.
“I was in court on a personal matter yesterday,” Saiyood said.
The lawyer also expressed concerns for the temple staff, including cage washers and tiger caretakers. Nearly 100 will be left unemployed, Saiyood said.
“I’m only an independent lawyer. [About the incident yesterday], the senior leader (puu yai) of the temple wasn’t there and I had to reach a compromise with the officials myself,” Saiyood said before referring to the police Col. Supitpong Phakjarung, vice president of the Tiger Temple Foundation.
When asked about the ongoing tiger transfer, Saiyood said, “We comply with the law. They confiscate the tigers; we let them do it.”