BANGKOK — Thai authorities charged three Buddhist monks Thursday after they were allegedly caught trying to smuggle tiger skins and other parts out of a tiger sanctuary at the center of abuse allegations.
The Buddhist temple west of Bangkok has long been popular with tourists who pay about $20 to pose for pictures with tigers and to feed their cubs.
But the temple has come under mounting allegations of abuse and illicit wildlife trafficking. Authorities armed with a court order raided it Monday to confiscate the 137 tigers found there and take them to a government wildlife sanctuary.
On Thursday officials stopped a pick-up truck attempting to leave the sanctuary and recovered tiger skins and charms made out of tiger parts.
Authorities also found 20 glass jars containing baby tigers and tiger organs in a "laboratory" in the temple, reinforcing suspicion it was making folk medicine, according to officials.
"The jars have labels, so I think they've made medicine here," said Adisorn Nuchdamrong, deputy director-general of the Department of National Parks, who has been overseeing the raid to remove the temple's tigers and search its premises.
Tiger parts are used in traditional Chinese medicine, a multi-million dollar business that has driven tigers to the brink of extinction and fueled the rearing of tigers in parts of Asia, especially China.
"We will discover more as we search on," Adisorn told Reuters.
Two temple devotees and a monk found in the pick-up truck, and two monks who helped load it, were charged under wildlife laws, Adisorn said.
Representatives of the temple were not available for comment.
The confiscation of the tiger products followed the discovery on Wednesday of 40 dead tiger cubs in a freezer. Wildlife officials suspect the cubs were being preserved for use in potions.