(eTN) – The savage death of an American by a runaway zoo tiger has failed to deter tourists from toying with danger at a “tiger temple” in Thailand.
As these dramatic pictures reveal, a peaceful “bonding with nature” moment between humans and wild animals can suddenly become life-threatening.
A large tiger following a monk through a quarry near the temple – unrestrained and seemingly as tame as a pet dog – suddenly roared and turned towards the crowd of onlookers, including backpacking Britons.
It failed to heed the calls of the monk and lumbered towards the tourists as other handlers urgently ordered the group move out of the way.
Panic-stricken, the tourists stumbled backwards, before being commanded by the monks to stand perfectly still while a lead was thrown around the tiger’s neck.
British photographer Richard Crampton, who witnessed the entire event, said from Thailand last night: “Tourists flock to the temple for the thrill of mingling with the tigers, which are being cared for by the monks – but those visitors are also flirting with death in my opinion.
“I fear that after witnessing the scene of that very big tiger failing to obey instructions and turning towards the tourists that one day there is going to be a tragedy here.
“It just seems so unnatural to see tigers wandering around the temple grounds and in the nearby quarry while tourists beg to have their pictures taken with them.”
Although many of the animals at the so-called Tiger Temple in Kanchanaburi, 100 miles north of Bangkok, have been born and raised on the premises, they have grown into large animals which could knock a man down and maul him in the blink of an eye.
The monks began looking after tigers when a cub was brought to them in 1999 after her mother was killed by poachers.
While that youngster later died, two other healthy male cubs were brought in, followed by others.
They began to breed in time so that today there are at least 35 tigers roaming the temple grounds.
When visitors first arrive they are given the chance to pet some tiger cubs, before they are then guided out to a nearby quarry where the full-grown tigers play freely.
It is there that tourists flirt with danger, playfully tugging a tiger’s tail, patting another on the head and, for a fee of 15 pounds, they can have their photo taken with a tiger’s head in their lap.
There have been claims that the tigers are harmless because they have been drugged, have had their teeth and claws removed and are vegetarian because they have never been fed meat.
But an American researcher who spent a week at the temple found out that the claims were totally untrue.
The tigers do not attack, said Karen Earp, because they have been brought up learning that humans are not a threat to them so there is no need for them to attack.
Photographer Richard Crampton, believes, however, that after witnessing a panicky moment at the temple when a tiger disobeyed a command, it would be unwise to think that there will never be “an incident” involving one of the animals there.