BANGKOK — Police investigating Thailand's now infamous Tiger Temple found what they believe was a slaughterhouse and tiger holding facility used in a suspected animal trafficking network.
The discovery Tuesday is the latest in a growing scandal surrounding the Buddhist temple, which was a popular tourist attraction that charged admission for visitors to take photos with the tigers and walk them on leashes. Last week, authorities removed more than 137 tigers from the temple grounds and also found 40 dead tiger cubs in a freezer and 20 more preserved in jars.
Acting on a tip, police raided a home Tuesday about 50 kilometres (30 miles) from the temple in Kanchanaburi province in western Thailand and found four live tigers and a dozen empty cages, said police Col. Montri Pancharoen, deputy commander of the Crime Suppression Division, which oversaw the raid.
Investigators believe the house, in an isolated area and surrounded by tall fences, served as "a holding facility and slaughterhouse,'' he said.
A tiger peers through the bars of its cage at the Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua Tiger Temple on June 1, 2016. (Photo: Getty Images)
"We believe it was used by the Tiger Temple to hold live tigers before slaughtering them for their skins, meat and bones to be exported outside the country, or sent to restaurants in Thailand that serve tiger meat to tour groups,'' he said.
The house had a work area with a large chopping board and a variety of knives which authorities believe served as the slaughter area, he said.
Police detained two caretakers at the facility who claimed the tigers were the private property of the home's owner, said Montri. Police were searching for the owner who was not there during the raid.
"The Tiger Temple is just a starting point, or a supplier,'' he said. "We have information that the Tiger Temple is not the only place that supplies tigers to illegal smugglers.''
A Thai DNP veterinarian officer assists a sedated tiger at the Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua Tiger Temple on June 1, 2016, in Kanchanaburi province, Thailand. (Photo: Getty Images)
Animal rights activists have long accused the temple of mistreating its tigers. The government suspects the monks have been involved in illegal breeding and trafficking of the animals.
The monks resisted previous efforts to take away the tigers, but relented last week after police obtained a court order.
The seizure of tigers started on May 30. Two days later authorities discovered the 40 dead tiger cubs in a temple freezer. A day later, police stopped a monk and two other men in a truck leaving the temple with two tiger skins, more than 700 vials containing tiger skin and a suitcase with tiger teeth, officials said.