Thailand Tiger Temple operation 'is completed'

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image source, EPA
image captionThe tigers are tranquilised prior to their removal

A week-long operation to remove nearly 140 tigers from a temple in Thailand has finished, officials say.

Operators at Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua temple, known as the Tiger Temple, are accused of wildlife trafficking and animal abuse. They deny the charges.

On Wednesday, wildlife officials found the bodies of 40 dead tiger cubs at the temple complex west of Bangkok.

The temple has been accused by experts of not keeping the animals properly and illegal trade in tiger parts.

Body parts found at the temple have increased suspicions that it is run as an admission-charging zoo while engaging in unethical breeding and trafficking of endangered animals.

The Buddhist temple first started taking in tigers nearly 20 years ago and since then has developed into a big and profitable tourist attraction.

Wildlife activists have accused the temple of illegally breeding tigers while online commentators have complained that the animals seem to be sedated.

image source, EPA
image captionWildlife activists have accused the temple of illegally breeding tigers
image source, EPA
image captionThe operation to remove nearly 140 tigers from the temple is now over

The temple denies these accusations.

Department of National Parks spokesman Adisorn Nuchdamrong told the Reuters news agency that 22 people had been charged with wildlife possession and trafficking, including 17 members of the temple's foundation and three monks caught trying to flee with a truckload of tiger skins on Thursday.

It followed the discovery of the 40 dead tiger cubs inside a freezer.

Correspondents say it is not clear why the dead cubs were being stored. Tiger bones and body parts are used in traditional Chinese medicine.

"We've confiscated all the hard disks of closed circuit cameras in this temple for police to find evidence of wrongdoing," Mr Adisorn said.

image source, EPA
image captionTiger parts found at the temple have increased suspicions that it is run as an admission-charging zoo while engaging in unethical breeding and trafficking of endangered animals
image source, Getty Images
image captionThe tigers at the complex were tranquilised using darts

The temple officially opened in 1994 near a wild tiger habitat. Its first cub was found by villagers in 1999. Since then they have continued to bring cubs to the temple, especially when their mothers are killed by poachers.

Monks have prevented frequent moves to close it.

Thailand is a renowned centre of trafficking of illicit wildlife products, including ivory.

The wildlife department first raided the temple on Monday. Most of the 137 tigers inside the complex have now been removed.

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