Thai ‘Tiger Temple’: Five charged with possessing endangered animal parts

Story highlights

The suspects were released on bail

A prosecutor will decide whether to take the case to trial

Dozens of jars containing newborn tiger cub organs, remains discovered at temple

Bangkok, Thailand CNN  — 

Five men, including three monks, from Thailand’s controversial “Tiger Temple” have been charged with possession of endangered animal parts without permission and released on bail, authorities told CNN.

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.

Thai wildlife officials brought the five suspects to a local police station in the early hours of Friday morning, Police Colonel Bandit Mueangsukham told CNN.

If they’re convicted, they face a maximum penalty of four years in prison and/or a fine of $1,100, said Adisorn Noochdumrong, deputy director general of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP).

Wildlife officers say they stopped and questioned one monk and two staff members from the Buddhist temple located in Kanchanaburi Province, west of Bangkok, as they tried to exit the compound on Thursday afternoon. Two other people were identified in the course of the investigation.

“We found 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.”

The department of national parks has relocated 100 tigers from the temple, and plans to remove 30 more by Saturday.

The temple, in turn, questioned the treatment of the tigers by the parks agency.

“The welfare of the tigers at the DNP facility is well below that at the Tiger Temple,” the temple’s Facebook page said.

Tiger skins, tiger teeth and dozens of jars containing the remains of newborn tiger cubs were also discovered at the temple on Thursday, according to wildlife officials.

“From what I can see, those parts and newly born tiger bodies look like they are for medical study purposes, as they were kept in proper formaldehyde,” said Tuenjai Noochdumrong.

The suspects were released on bail set at $2,250 per person. A prosecutor will decide whether to take the case to trial.

CNN’s Kocha Olarn reported from Bangkok, Thailand, and CNN’s Azadeh Ansari wrote from Atlanta.