The big cats bringing in a roaring trade at Thailand's controversial Tiger Temple (but why are they so docile around tourists?)

-Tourists are permitted to pet and pose for pictures with the big cats
-The sanctuary is run by monks for orphaned tigers


Big cats: A brave tourist poses for souvenir photographs with a tiger at the Tiger Temple in Kanchanaburi province, Thailand

On first glance, you might assume these incredible images of tigers were taken in the wild.
The big cats are seen in all their majesty as they playfully frolic in a water pool.
However, these photographs were snapped at a sanctuary for orphaned tigers run by Buddhist monks - fast becoming one of Thailand's most popular tourist attractions.
One of the reasons for its popularity could be that it is one of the few places in the world where visitors are allowed to pet and pose for pictures with the carnivores.
The Tiger Temple in the western province of Kanchanaburi - about 80 km from Bangkok - began life in 1999 when the first female cub was brought to Wat Pa Luangta Bua Yannasampanno, a Buddhist sanctuary, and was cared for by the monks.

Human contact: The sanctuary is run by Buddhist monks and staffed by volunteers who help feed, walk and play with the tigers

The temple is renowned for its practice of letting visiting tourists pet the tigers - after having paid a fee to have their pictures taken with the animals

Cat chat: Thai Buddhist Abbot monk Pra Acharn Phoosit Khantitharo - known as Abbot Chan - uses a walkie-talkie as he strolls among the tigers at the temple

Since then, it has evolved into a much larger wildlife haven and is now a major tourist attraction in Thailand.
It is one of the few places in the world that allows visitors to touch tigers.
For a basic entrance fee - or 'donation' - of 1,000 baht (about £20), visitors get a tour of the site and the chance to enter the sanctuary's Tiger Canyon, a quarry with a rocky pool at one end containing a dozen or so sleeping tigers chained to the ground.
During a small half-hour window, tourists have the option of being escorted around the quarry with two volunteers so they can pet each tiger while they sleep. One volunteer keeps an eye on the tiger while the other takes charge of tourist's camera and snaps away as they touch the big cats.

Up close: The sanctuary is one of the few places in the world where humans are allowed to touch the tigers

Tug of war: The monks say the reason the tigers are so docile around tourists is because years of being hand-reared at the temple have made them comfortable with human contact

For an extra fee, visitors can have their picture taken with the largest tiger's head resting in their lap.
And for more money, they can have a front row seat - in a cage near the water front - to watch the cats playing in the pool.
Despite its status as a sanctuary, the Tiger Temple has been dogged by controversy as it has grown as a tourist attraction.
Many online forums discussing the temple contain fierce debate of the ethical issues surrounding such a tourist attraction.
The temple has been forced to strenuously deny accusations that its big cat residents are sedated to allow tourists to have their pictures taken with them.
They say the reason the carnivores are so docile is because they have been hand-reared by the monks from an early age, which means their aggressive behaviour has been controlled and they do not see human contact as a threat.
However, many remain suspicious over why the cats are so calm and sleepy during the visiting sessions.

At ease: Tourists have the chance to get closer than most to these majestic tigers

Making a splash: Two tigers playfully fight each other in a pool at the Tiger Temple

Bath time: One tiger plays with a toy brandished by one of the volunteers at the sanctuary, as the others look on

Visitors to the sanctuary are made to sign a disclaimer before they are allowed to enter - to ensure the temple does not get sued in case someone is attacked by a tiger - and signs at the gate explain why the tigers are so used to human contact.
Tourists are also advised to steer clear of dressing in brightly-coloured clothes to avoid getting the tigers excited.
Nevertheless, for the most part, tourists who visit the Tiger Temple come away from it with a unique experience - a chance to get up close with the majestic big cats.

Price list: A sign at the Tiger Temple detailing the services on offer for tourists who want to get closer to the tigers

A review on travel bible Lonely Planet's website reads: 'Kanchanaburi’s most expensive tourist attraction is also its most controversial.
'This monastery affords incredible photo opportunities for visitors to get up close and personal with the big cats.
'Some of the temple’s 30 tigers pose for pictures in a canyon while visitors are shepherded in and out in quick succession.'

source: dailymail