- The Tiger Temple in Kanchanaburi is a popular tourist attraction
- Monks at the temple look after 137 tigers
- Monks have been accused of wildlife trafficking since 2001 but deny wrongdoing
- Authorities ordered to removal of the tigers in 2015
At least 40 dead tiger cubs, a dead bear and various animal horns have been found by wildlife officials on the grounds of Thailand's Tiger Temple west of Bangkok, Thai officials say.
The bodies of the cubs and bear were found stored in the freezer where the temple kept food for the tigers, Adisorn Nuchdamrong, deputy director-general of the wildlife department, said on Wednesday.
"The temple never registered these dead cubs. They are illegal," he said.
The Wat Pa Luangta Bua Yanasampanno, also known as Tiger Temple, is a popular tourist attraction in Kanchanaburi province, west of Bangkok.
|The Tiger Temple has come under fire in recent years over the welfare of its big cats [Reuters]
The discovery of dead animals proves that the Tiger Temple has been engaged in illegal breeding and smuggling activities, said Edwin Wiek, head of the Wildlife Friends Foundation of Thailand.
"Under the CITES [Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species] treaty, no wildlife farm or sanctuary can engage in the breeding of protected species," Wiek told DPA news agency by phone.
"These animals were bred and hidden away. I believe that they were stored to be sold for parts on the black market."
'Illegal breeding programmes'
Thailand's Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation has long accused the Buddhist temple, where tourists can stroke and pose for photos with the big cats, of keeping the animals without a proper permit.
The temple has denied claims from conservationists that the monks carry out irresponsible breeding programmes, traffic endangered species and illegally sell the animals.
READ MORE: Tigers removed from popular Thai Buddhist temple
Police and wildlife officials started an operation earlier this week to remove all the 137 tigers at the Tiger Temple after allegations of wildlife trafficking.
On Tuesday, Teunjai Noochdumrong, director of Thailand's Wildlife Conservation Office, said that 40 tigers were tranquilised and removed from the temple.
"There was some resistance from the community. They didn't understand why we were taking them [the tigers] from the temple when they look so peaceful and fine at the temple," said Teunjai.
"We tried talking to them, explaining to them that the tigers belong to the country."