Thailand Officials Find Dead Cubs in 'Tiger Temple' Freezer Amid Abuse Allegations

Image: Tiger Temple
A picture taken on Monday shows officials loading a tiger into a cage at the sanctuary.CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT / AFP - Getty Images

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By Nat Sumon and Kyle Eppler

BANGKOK — Wildlife authorities discovered 40 dead cubs in a freezer at Thailand's controversial Tiger Temple on Wednesday amid an operation to remove felines from the sanctuary due to abuse allegations.

The Tiger Temple in Kachanburi province has been a favorite for tourists, who could pay to pat and take photographs with passive big cats.

Visitors relax with tiger cubs at Thailand's "Tiger Temple" in 2012.Kyle Eppler / NBC News

However, the sanctuary has been dogged by allegations that the monks running the facility were breeding tigers for profit and selling animal parts. Monks and lay workers at the sanctuary have rejected the accusations.

PHOTOS: An Inside Look at Controversial Thai 'Tiger Temple'

Thai officials on Monday descended on the Tiger Temple, sedating the striped cats and caging them up for removal to wildlife refuges.

On Wednesday, they made a grisly discovery as they continued the operation to remove nearly 140 tigers.

Adisorn Noochdumrong, deputy director-general of the Department of National Parks, told NBC News that rangers found 40 cub carcasses in a freezer in the basement of the enclosure compound.

Officials inspect the carcasses at the Tiger Temple on Wednesday.Dario Pignatelli / Getty Images

He said it was not immediately clear why the carcasses were there, stressing that it was not necessarily evidence of illegal trading or smuggling.

The Tiger Temple posted a statement on Facebook denying allegations of participating in a "black market" for cubs, saying "this is not true."

It said that "cubs do occasionally die for various reasons" and that in most cases those cubs were cremated but that a former vet changed the policy and instead kept deceased cubs "preserved" or "frozen."

A former vet is among those alleging abuse at the sanctuary.

Nick Bailey and F. Brinley Bruton contributed.