Authorities in Thailand discovered 40 dead tiger cubs in a freezer at the infamous Tiger Temple, which is being investigated for wildlife trafficking.
Officials in the Southeast Asian country made the macabre find as they corralled and captured more than 130 surviving adult tigers at the tourist destination west of Bangkok.
The Wildlife Conservation Office said that the tigers were being mistreated, and have begun taking control of them from the Buddhist monks who run the center.
Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua, popularly known as Tiger Temple, allows visitors to walk near the beautiful beasts and take pictures as part of tours, which start at $100.
However, Thai authorities say that it also bred the animals for profit and trafficked them, which violates international conventions on endangered animals.
Tiger body parts have become lucrative on the black market, and are used in traditional medicine or luxury goods for the ultra-wealthy in China.
Adisorn Nuchdamrong, deputy director-general of the Department of National Parks, said that he was not immediately sure what value the baby tigers had or why they were frozen in a kitchen area.
Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand also said a dead bear and a binturong, a type of bearcat, were found.
The government had also forbidden the temple from breeding tigers in 2001, but temple officials say that it does not have a breeding program and that the tigers mate naturally.
Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua’s representative Supitpong Pakdjarung denied any wrongdoing to the New York Times on Wednesday and said that the cubs were kept in the freezer to prove they weren’t sold on the black market.
The temple said in a Facebook post in March that it has a low mortality rate for newborn cubs, but that those frozen died for various reasons. This claim was reposted Wednesday.
However, former employees told National Geographic in January that baby tigers had been sold to illegal farms in Laos.
One set of allegations against the monks center on three adult tigers who vanished on two nights in late 2014 when international staff and volunteers were away from the temple.
Facing what it says was mounting international pressure, the government raided the facility on Monday, though an official said that workers at the temple had made their job harder by opening all the felines’ cages.
Adisorn said that 52 of the 137 cats believed to be living at the temple had been captured as of Wednesday afternoon.
A representative for the temple said that once the tigers are removed, it plans to start a zoo.
The temple’s Facebook page also shared videos of the animals being transported, saying that they are “stressed, confused and traumatized.”
The tigers taken from the tourist site are being taken to government sanctuaries.
With News Wire Services