All tigers cleared from temple, legal action to follow

All tigers cleared from temple, legal action to follow

National park officials place the tranquillised tiger
National park officials place the tranquillised tiger "Sai Fah 2" into a cage on Saturday before taking it and eight other big cats from the Tiger Temple in Kanchanaburi to the wildlife breeding centre in Chom Bung district in Ratchaburi. (Photo by Piyarach Chongcharoen)

KANCHANABURI: "Sai Fah 2" was the last tiger to be tranquillised before the 300-kilogramme male cat and eight others were moved out of the Tiger Temple on Saturday.

The move brought to an end a five-day mission to relocate 137 big cats from a site that had become a temple of doom for wildlife. Now authorities will begin the even harder task of gathering evidence that they believe could link Wat Pa Luang Ta Maha Bua to the worldwide illegal animal trade.

The job took on a new urgency this week as the rescue operation proceeded, after officials discovered more than live tigers at the lucrative tourist attraction in Sai Yok district. Dead tiger cubs, animal parts and amulets were also part of the grim haul, suggesting a thriving trade in trafficked species.

The last nine tigers were taken to the Khao Son wildlife breeding centre in Chom Bung district in Ratchaburi, one of the two sanctuaries set aside for all of the rescued cats.

Tuanjai Noochdamrong, the Wildlife Conservation Office director, declared the transfer operation over and said legal action against the temple and the people involved was next.

That means police are taking the lead from now on, with assistance from the National Parks and Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department, to look into possible links between the temple and wildlife traffickers.

"The work has been handed over to police officers from today," said Adisorn Noochdamrong, the deputy director-general of the department.

The department has already asked police at Sai Yok to take action against one monk and two temple employees accused of possessing carcasses of protected animals.

From Monday to Friday this week, authorities found 40 tiger cub carcasses, six hornbills, 27 sheets of processed wood, including teak, two tiger pelts and hundreds of ta krut talismans made from tiger parts, among others.

The stunning discoveries continued on Saturday when authorities found a stuffed tiger buffalo, a stuffed Asian golden cat and a stuffed leopard. The skeletons of a dead Asian golden cat and a dead leopard were also seized in the compound.

Some of the discoveries were made near the residence of the temple's abbot, Phra Sutthi Sarathera, or Luang Ta Chan. The monk left the temple for Bangkok last Sunday and nobody knows where he is now.

After the tiger transfer was completed, authorities handed back control of the 1,456-rai compound but no representatives from the temple showed up. Sayant Saengklueb, president of the Sing Tambon Administration Organisation, and Suphan Korfuk, a kamnan of tambon Sing, appeared on their behalf.

Besides facing criminal action, the temple could lose its licence to operate a zoo. The licence was authorised by the department for the Luang Ta Maha Bua Foundation, not the temple itself.

Mrs Tuanjai cautioned that the zoo licence and the alleged misdeeds at the temple were separate legal issues. But she said that if any offenders at the temple turned out to also be officials of the foundation, the licence could be revoked.

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