Warning: Graphic images may disturb some readers.
Thai authorities found forty dead tiger cubs in a freezer at Tiger Temple on June 1, during part of a days-long raid.
The discovery came after Wildlife officials in Thailand started removing dozens of the 137 tigers at the Buddhist temple after monks were accused of illicit acts. Monks at Tiger Temple in Kanchanaburi province, a popular tourist destination, were allegedly involved in illegal breeding and trafficking of the exotic animals.
Authorities say wildlife officials will file new criminal charges after the finding, adding that the cubs were only a day or two old when they died, according to AFP.
The dead cubs “must be of some value for the temple,” Adisorn Nuchdamrong, from Thailand’s Department of National Parks, told Reuters.
“But for what is beyond me,” said Nuchdamrong.
Bones and body parts of tigers are used in traditional Chinese medicine.
Other animal body parts were also found in a freezer, Tom Taylor, from Wildlife Friends Foundation, told the BBC.
The monks at Tiger Temple said on Facebook that they kept the dead cubs after a request from a veterinarian in 2010.
“He made that decision probably to keep as proof against the allegations of selling Cubs,” said the company, adding that prior to the vet’s decision, monks would cremate the animals.
The monks also said the mortality rate for tiger cubs at Tiger Temple were “comparatively low,” but didn’t provide a number.
The average newborn tiger mortality rate is 35 percent, according to the Association for Zoos and Aquariums.
Chris Coots, a volunteer for the operation, told the BBC that the remains were frozen as proof that cubs who died of natural causes were not being sold into the black market.
“A number of the bodies are in a state of decay as they have been there over five years,” he said.
“It would seem strange to keep the bodies that long if the intent was to sell them. This will be easily clarified by decomposition tests,” added Coots.
A journalist from the Khaosod news website said he saw animal intestines in containers, a dead boar, and other animal parts at the Tiger Temple.
Before the raid, the tourist attraction had faced criticism because the tigers appear to be drugged while visitors took selfies with them and bottle-fed the animals.
“Many people are asking why confiscate the tigers? We ask, Should the temple be allowed to continue abusing the tigers? Using them as ‘cash cows’ whether that be through photos with tourists or the buttering of them to sell their body,” said the Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand (WFFT).
“The answer in no, we fully support the Thai authorities in upholding the law and saving the tigers.”
Tiger Temple officials deny the accusations.
“It has been more than a year and the case hasn’t gone anywhere.”
About 1,000 state personnel are expected to continue carrying out the operation for a week. Veterinarians and staff from across the country volunteered to transfer the animals to two government animal centers elsewhere in Thailand.
As of Monday night at 8:00 p.m. local time, a total of 7 tigers were transferred, according to WFFT. The organization said some tigers had been released by temple staff and were on the loose. The animals were later caught and moved out of the temple, but it caused a delay in the operation.
On May 31, teams stopped rounding up tigers late in the afternoon because it was too hot to sedate the animals. According to Edwin Wiek from WFFT, 20 tigers had been removed from the temple.
A group of almost a dozen NGO’s from Thailand and authorities will coordinate to decide what the next step for the tigers will be, says WFFT.