Wildlife authorities who this week raided Kanchanaburi’s Tiger Temple to relocate more than 100 big cats there made a grisly discovery Wednesday: the remains of 40 tiger cubs hidden in a freezer.
The dead cubs - which observers said on Twitter appeared to have been killed recently -- were in a kitchen area at Wat Pa Luangta Maha Bua in Sai Yok district, said Adisorn Noochdumrong, deputy director-general of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation, which has been on-site for three days, removing 137 tigers from the monks' custody after years of allegations of wildlife trafficking and animal abuse.
The suspicions appeared to have gained merit, based on Wednesday's find.
"They must be of some value for the temple to have kept them," Mr Adisorn said of the dead kittens. "But what that may be is beyond me."
Authorities stormed the kitchen facilities on Wednesday after getting a tip about the temple's secret stash. They also found the body of a Binturong, a protected species commonly known as a bearcat, and a number of dead wildlife organs.
Edwin Wiek, founder of Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand, tweeted wildlife authorities also confiscated a dozen protected hornbills on the premises. His claim could not be independently confirmed.
Monks at the temple were not immediately available for comment.
The temple has been charged with illegally possessing wildlife carcasses. The charge carries a maximum penalty of four years in jail and a fine of 40,000 baht. It already faces a charge for having animals under protection, which have the same punishment.
Officials on Wednesday moved another 12 tigers to the Khao Son and Khao Prathap Chang Wildlife breeding centres in Ratchaburi's Chom Bung district, bringing the total of animals relocated since Monday to 52. There are 85 more there to be moved.
The Tiger Temple has been investigated for suspected links to wildlife trafficking and abuse. A raid that began on Monday is the latest move in a tug-of-war since 2001 to bring the tigers under state control.
Tiger parts are used in traditional Chinese medicine.
The World Wildlife Fund on Wednesday praised the department for taking action against the monastery's zoo.
"This week's actions to remove the tigers from the Tiger Temple are long overdue and we strongly encourage the DNP to make the removal of the tigers permanent," said Yowalak Thiarachow, Country Director, WWF-Thailand.
On Tuesday, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals group said the temple was "hell for animals" and called on tourists to stop visiting animal attractions at home and abroad.
The temple had become a tourist destination where visitors snapped selfies with bottle-fed cubs.