This story is reported with a heavy heart for a cause that needs heavy advocacy. Earlier this week, 40 tiger cubs were found in a freezer at the “Tiger Temple,” a controversial tourist attraction based in Western Thailand. It’s believed that this investigation may be linked to the illegal wildlife trade market. It began after Thailand’s Department of National Parks, Wildlife, and Plant Conservation (DNP), received multiple complaints that this temple, also a Buddhist Monastery, was trafficking endangered species. In the midst of this investigation, authorities caught a monk fleeing from the temple in a vehicle carrying two tiger skins, 10 fangs, and multiple scraps of tiger fur.
This monastery has been accused for years by animal rights conservationists of mistreatment, illegal breeding, and exploitation of animals. Many tourists flock to this temple and pay high costs to take up-close pictures with the tigers. However, this temple did not have the proper licensing to house this many tigers, and for years they ignored government protocol.
There is still an ongoing investigation on how these tigers died, the temple states the cubs died of natural causes and have preserved the bodies since 2010. The temple is legally supposed to report every tiger death on its grounds. They reported one death. Frozen tiger cubs are a highly marketed industry in Asia, specifically for use in Chinese medicine and luxury goods, making this an even more suspicious case.
When asked why these cubs were frozen instead of cremated, a temple worker responded: “The previous vet started this policy, to combat the allegations of the temple selling the cubs.” This policy seems counterintuitive. Why illegally freeze cubs rather than report each instance and cremate each cub? I can’t assume the answer to that question, but the evidence suggests trafficking and poaching.
Tigers are classified as an endangered species, and these deceased cubs accounted for roughly 1% of the planet’s tiger population. At one point, this particular temple housed 148 tigers. Since this investigation began, the DNP has relocated 64 adult tigers with an additional 73 still on temple grounds. They hope to relocate all tigers in the next few days.
3 Buddhist monks have been charged with possession of illegal wildlife. But if this “Tiger Temple” is guilty of the heinous criminal acts it is accused of, I hope each person involved is charged with much more than that. The temple recently won approval to build a zoo nearby, which they still plan on doing in the coming months. Regardless of the outcome, I pray the DNP does everything in its power to make sure that privilege is revoked.