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  Thai police bust Bangkok rare wildlife 'butchers'
Thai police busted a grisly exotic wildlife slaughterhouse in Bangkok when officers caught four men in the act of chopping up a tiger in a residential home, officials said Monday.

Elephant, zebra, wildebeest and lion remains were also found at the suburban property as well as meat kept in a refrigerator that police and wildlife activists said was likely to be destined for human consumption.

"We assume that the meat is from tigers because we found tiger skin and heads. From what I've seen, I think it's two tigers," Thai Nature Crime Police Commander, Police Colonel Norasak Hemnithi, told AFP.

He said police arrested seven men and are hunting another, believed to be the owner of an exotic animal restaurant in Bangkok, which has operated in the capital for a decade.

"We believe that this butchers house is mainly to provide orders for the restaurant, but those arrested said they sometimes shipped meat and stuffed animals to China," he added.

Wildlife anti-trafficking group Freeland, which often works with the Thai police on operations, said local police chanced on the gruesome scene after encountering a man whose hands were covered in blood in Bangkok's Yannawa district.

"Police escorted the man back to a residential building and discovered four others in the midst of chopping up a 400 kilogramme (880 pound) male tiger," the group said.

Freeland director Steven Galster said the group believes some of the animals were "bred in, or laundered through, private zoos in Thailand".

Norasak said he thought the tigers might have been from the wild, but other animals could have been from private zoos.

The arrested men could face four years in jail for the illegal processing of wild and protected animals, he added.

Thailand, a hub of international smuggling, is one of just 13 countries hosting fragile tiger populations. Worldwide, numbers are estimated to have fallen to only 3,200 tigers from approximately 100,000 a century ago.
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