Calgarian challenges Thai tiger temple dead cub story

A Calgary man who says he has worked closely with the Thailand Tiger Temple is challenging wildlife authority claims of being shocked at the discovery of 40 dead tiger cubs this week.

Thailand Department of National Parks denies knowing about the 'discovery'

Gary Agnew says the Thailand Department of National Parks were fully aware that the temple was keeping dead cubs, on the order of a former vet. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

A Calgary man who says he has worked closely with the Thailand Tiger Temple is challenging wildlife authority claims of being shocked at the discovery of 40 dead tiger cubs this week.

Gary Agnew, with a background in human resources, was on the Calgary Zoo's board of directors for nine years. That inspired a love of tigers, he explained.

He says for the last decade, he has worked with staff at the Buddhist temple west of Bangkok in Thailand's Kanchanaburi province, visiting often.

A Buddhist monk feeds a tiger with water from a bottle at the Wat Pa Luang Ta Bua, otherwise known as the Tiger Temple, in Kanchanaburi province February 12, 2015. (Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters)

"Last November, when I was there, we did a full inventory of everything and [the Department of National Parks (DNP)] were presented with this information, so was the Royal Thai Police. In addition to that last February, again, we took this information to the head of the DNP, he was in the freezer with us," Agnew said.

The DNP denies they knew about the dead cubs.

"The temple has notified us when grown tigers die, but never the cubs," an official told Reuters this week.

Officials have moved 61 live tigers from the temple since Monday, leaving 76 still there, the department said.

He says it was the former vet at the temple who instructed staff to keep the bodies of tigers that were stillborn or rejected by their parents.

Gary Agnew says it was his time on the Calgary Zoo board of directors that inspired his passion for tigers. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

"We don't know why he wanted this, we understood it was for research and trying to improve the ability to have the cubs born successfully," he said.

Agnew says, in his opinion, there is a lot going on behind the scenes that led to the "discovery" of the dead cubs.

"It is a political fight, it is a religious fight, it is an internal fight within the department. The leader has left, there are two factions there that are fighting. One is working with the temple and the other [wants] to close the temple down."

He says, in his frequent trips to the temple, he has not observed behaviour to support the allegations the temple is currently facing.

"As far as abuse, there isn't abuse. There are no drugs, there is no drugging of tigers. They are cats, they sleep all day and wander at night," Agnew said.

"We have to fully protect them, it is terrible. The poaching in Thailand is absolutely astronomical. It is something to be feared. The tigers have to be locked up every single night to protect them."

Agnew said the raid could be the final nail in the temple's coffin.

"There will be no more tourists. The tourists were donating money to the cause of building a new sanctuary," Agnew said.

"We just bought 4,000 acres to build the new sanctuary and that will not be completed because there is not even enough food to feed the animals anymore."

Thailand has long been a hub for the illicit trafficking of wildlife and forest products, including ivory. Exotic birds, mammals and reptiles, some of them endangered species, can often be found on sale in markets.

With files from Thomson Reuters and CBC's Monty Kruger