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Thai police make 'Tiger Temple' arrests

Jane McIntosh (with AP, Reuters)June 2, 2016

Officials stationed at the controversial "Tiger Temple" in western Thailand have arrested two men who tried to smuggle out tiger skins and amulets. The center is accused of illegal animal trafficking.

Baby tiger at 'Tiger Temple' in Thailand
Image: Imago/A. Kleb

Two men in a truck have been arrested and charged with possession of illegal wildlife, according to police Colonel Bandith Meungsukhum. A monk traveling with them will be arrested once he is defrocked.

"Today we found [tiger] skins and amulets in a car which was trying to leave a temple," Adisorn Noochdumrong, the deputy director of Thailand's Parks Department, said on Thursday.

The truck was carrying more than 700 vials containing tiger skin as well as many tiger teeth hidden in a suitcase, said Teunchai Noochdumrong, director of the government's wildlife Conservation Office. The vials are used as good luck charms.

"I am quite shocked," Teunchai said. "We all have heard concerns and allegations about this temple. I would never have thought they would be so blatant."

Speaking to DW on Thursday, Debbie Banks, campaign leader on tigers and wildlife crime for the London-based Environmental Investigative Agency (EIA) said "the attempts to smuggle out tiger parts this morning from the site shows the place was out of control."

"This was not an isolated case," Banks added. "There are 7,000 captive tigers across Asia, held in facilities which are masquerading as zoos or conservation centers. The idea that they are for conservation is farcical."

Ongoing investigation at the Temple

Police and park officials at what is officially known as the Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua temple in western Kanchanaburi province have removed 84 live tigers from the site since they were given a court order to remove more than 100 adult cats from the complex.

On Wednesday, dozens of dead tiger cubs were found inside a freezer at the temple. However, in a Facebook post in March, the temple said that it was normal for some cubs to die and that the staff had been preserving the carcasses since 2010.

Adisorn said more tiger-body parts had been found following a search of monks' quarters. Officials have so far found two full-body tiger skins, about 10 fangs and dozens of smaller pieces of tiger fur.

Animal rights groups have accused the temple of acting secretly as a tiger farm and making profits from selling animals and parts on the black market for use in Chinese medicine.

The temple has always denied trafficking allegations.

Sumatra tiger
Banks said more should be done to stop the trade in tigersImage: Getty Images/AFP/T. Fabi

A challenge for the international community

"The animals are in-bred, or speed-bred, taken from their mothers at an early age," EIA's Banks stated. "The tigers could never be released into the wild as they are too used to being with people.

"We congratulate and commend the authorities in Thailand for persevering in this investigation," she added. "We hope to see arrests and prosecutions. This trade is for some criminals just part of their multi-million dollar illegal, trafficking activities."

Banks said she hoped to see more action from international organizations and governments, including the European Union, to provide resources to track down and stop the international trade in tigers and body parts.