BANGKOK — All 137 tigers once housed at Thailand’s controversial “Tiger Temple” have been removed, authorities told CNN.
About 100 tigers were removed from the grounds earlier this week, and the remaining animals were taken off the site Saturday.
The “tigers looked fairly healthy,” said Adisorn Noochdumrong, deputy director general of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP). His team will be performing “thorough check-ups on every tiger, to see if they are indeed in good condition.”
The operation to move the tigers from the Buddhist temple took almost a week, authorities told CNN.
The confiscated tigers will be moved to a new home at a governmental sanctuary in Ratchaburi Province, about 90 km (56 miles) south of Kanchanaburi Province where the temple is located.
Five men, including three monks, from the controversial “Tiger Temple” have been charged with possession of endangered animal parts without permission. They were detained and released on bail on Friday.
Federal officials filed the charges after 40 dead tiger cubs were found in a freezer at the Buddhist temple, the deputy chief of the country’s parks and wildlife department said.
Other items discovered included “two pieces of tiger skin, eight to nine pieces of tiger teeth and about 800 to 900 ‘Ta Krud,’ and we are currently looking around the temple for more suspicious items,” said Tuenjai Noochdumrong, the director of Thailand’s Wildlife Conservation Office (WCO), a division of the DNP. (She is married to Adisorn Noochdumrong.)
“Ta Krud” are small containers with pieces of tiger skin, mostly worn as pendants around the neck by people with the superstitious belief that by wearing them they will become invincible.
Officers reported they found a pendant containing tiger skin in the room of the temple’s chief monk, whose whereabouts are currently unknown.
The Tiger Temple fired back on Facebook, denying claims that it possessed tiger skin.
“The recent discovery of the tiger skins and necklaces comes as a shock to us as well as the rest of the world. We are disgusted at this discovery and we don’t condone this. We are looking forward to the authorities bringing the culprits to justice.”
Officials plan to file more complaints against the individuals involved with the foundation that runs the Tiger Temple, said Noochdumrong. These charges will also be filed against the chief monk of the temple, known as “the abbott,” officials said.
If the suspects are convicted of violating the Wildlife Conservation Act, they face a maximum penalty of four years in prison and/or a fine of $1,100, said Noochdumrong.
The suspects were released on bail set at $2,250 per person. A prosecutor will decide whether to take the case to trial.