By CS Thana
BANGKOK (AA) – Thai authorities have caught a monk and two accomplices fleeing a controversial Buddhist temple with tiger skins and claws amid efforts to remove more than a hundred tigers from the institution.
Adisorn Noochdumrong, deputy director of the wildlife department, told reporters Thursday that authorities caught the men escaping from the “Tiger Temple” in western Kanchanaburi province with the animal contraband.
A further search uncovered further evidence of animal smuggling.
"We have also found protected species at the temple including hornbills and jackals."
Adisorn said wildlife officials also discovered more tiger cub carcasses, adding to the 40 found Wednesday.
The Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation announced Thursday that at least 80 tigers have been removed of the more than 140 kept at the temple, whose official name is Wat Pa Luang Ta Bua Yanasampanno.
The rest of the animals are due to be removed by the end of the week.
For years, wildlife activists have accused the temple of animal abuse and trafficking tigers and their body parts -- allegations vehemently denied by the temple monks.
Killing an animal is one of the five capital sins for a Buddhist monk according to the 2,500-year-old code of monastic discipline, leading to a member’s immediate exclusion from the monkhood.
Until this month, the monks had resisted attempts by authorities to take away the tigers, but they relented when wildlife officers arrived Monday with an official search warrant issued by a court.
The temple has been closed to tourists since then.
The Tiger Temple is known locally and internationally for its tiger population and for having allowed visitors to walk alongside the tigers, take photos with them and feed the animals.
Conservationists accuse the temple of illegally breeding the tigers and drugging them to appear tame next to tourists for photos.
A recent investigation conducted by National Geographic Magazine also claimed that the temple bred tigers to be sold for parts to smugglers for use in traditional Chinese medicines.
In April last year, the wildlife department had threatened to transfer all the tigers to government facilities on the grounds that the temple did not have the required license, but officials had contented themselves with registering the animals and equipping them with microchips.
An agreement was reached under which the temple was allowed to keep the tigers on the condition that the animals and their offspring were registered as state assets, and not exploited for commercial purposes.