Thai officials on Wednesday found 40 dead tiger cubs in a freezer at the Tiger Temple, a site which has come under investigation for allegedly trafficking endangered species.
Representatives for the temple, however, said that it had notified Thailand's Wildlife Conservation Office of all of the cubs' births and deaths and that it kept the bodies to prove that none of them were sold illegally.
"We have declared all the deaths to the officials over years," said Supitpong Pakdjarung, who runs the temple's business operations. "They've known about these carcasses for a long time."
The Tiger Temple, a Buddhist monastery officially called Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua, charges visitors for tours, starting at $100, in which they can walk near the tigers and take pictures.
The officials discovered the dead animals while they were rounding up more than 130 living adult tigers at the site, which is being investigated for wildlife trafficking. In addition to the tiger corpses, a dead bear and binturong were found.
Teunchai Noochdumrong, who is the director of the country's Wildlife Conservation Office, said it did not appear that the dead cubs were missing any body parts. Adult tigers are valued for their pelts, teeth and claws, but cubs can be sold for their meat and bones, said Debbie Banks, campaign leader for tigers and wildlife crime at the London-based Environmental Investigative Agency. The bones, she said, are believed to have medicinal value.
"Tiger cubs also are sold in large jars of wine, either on their own or with bear paws, snakes and scorpions, she said. Some people believe such 'wildlife wine' provides a health benefit, she said," according to the New York Times.
The temple has also bred the big cats for profit, according to Thai officials, while temple representatives have said that there is no tiger breeding program in place and the animals simply mate naturally. Since 2001, the temple has been forbidden from breeding tigers by the Thai government.
Supitpong said that once the government removes all of the remaining tigers, it will start a zoo nearby.
"Right now, we want everything to come to an end," said Supitpong. "Please hurry and remove all the tigers. Once the state tigers are all removed, we will proceed with the zoo."