Enjoying the trip of a lifetime to Thailand, university student Isabelle Brennan strokes a young tiger at a popular tourist attraction – one of the few places in the world where you can pet the deadly animals while they sleep.
But just minutes after this photo was taken, another 400lb tiger leapt into the frame, knocking the 19-year-old to the ground with its paw and sinking its teeth into her thigh.
She was saved when keepers at the Tiger Temple sanctuary in West Thailand jumped between her and the animal, while her sister and travelling companion Georgie, 21, dragged her to safety.
Eight weeks on, Miss Brennan is recovering at home in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, but cannot walk unaided, while doctors said the four-inch wound will leave her scarred for life.
The University College London student wants to warn others of the dangers of approaching the orphaned tigers, which are hand-reared by Buddhist monks at the controversial sanctuary.
Reliving the nightmare she said last night: ‘I feel lucky to be alive. Everything happened so fast. One minute I was petting a tiger’s back, the next it turned its head and knocked me to the ground with its paw.
‘As it lunged with its teeth I felt an agonising pain on the inside of my left thigh above my knee. What happened next is a blur. But a keeper jumped in between myself and the tiger. Then, while the keepers pulled the tiger to stop it attacking me further, my older sister Georgie dragged me under my arms to safety.’
The stunned teenager added: ’When I looked down at my leg it was terrifying. All I could see was blood.’
Two friends in their group immediately tied a tourniquet round Miss Brennan’s leg to stop it bleeding.
Meanwhile, the Human Sciences student who is studying for a degree at University College London was rushed to Thailand’s Kanchanaburi Memorial Hospital where she needed ‘tens of stitches’ to repair the four-inch wound.
She then had to remain in hospital for a fortnight after contracting an infection and high fever.
Her sister, 21, was forced to make the call to parents Margaret and Nick Brennan, 56, an architect.
Mother Margaret Brennan, 52 a former nurse who now runs her own business, said: ‘When Georgie rang the first thing she said was ‘firstly Isabelle’s ok’ but I was very upset. I couldn’t believe it when she said Isabelle had been bitten by a tiger.’
But finally after a gruelling two weeks in hospital – when she was pumped with strong antiobotics – she was well enough to fly back to the UK.
However, Miss Brennan was to spend a month in a wheelchair and on crutches. She is now learning how to walk again.
Eight weeks since the attack, she is still limping and doctors have told her she will have a permanent scar.
Miss Brennan and her sister from Harrogate were in the first week of their trip of a lifetime in Thailand, which they had spent six months saving for, when they visited Tiger Temple.
‘I was nervous about going into the Temple,’ says Miss Brennan, ‘however, I was reassured by the staff that as the tigers had been hand reared, they were so used to humans they were completely tame.
‘They were also tethered by chains and the staff told me no-one had ever been seriously injured.’
After petting some tigers in an enclosure, Miss Brennan – who followed all the Temple rules such as not wearing bright clothes to excite the tigers – decided to go into a special area where she could wash the tigers.
‘We were given a talk beforehand and told not to touch the tiger’s head and to remove dangly jewellery. We were then shown how to wash a tiger’s back.’
It was while Miss Brennan was washing one tiger’s back, it turned round and mauled her.
She says: ‘In hindsight I had an incredibly lucky escape. I could have lost my leg or worse. The Tiger Temple staff were very upset. They paid for all my treatment in hospital and visited every day. They explained the tiger was just being playful. However, I want to warn others going to Tiger Temple that the animals might not be as docile as they first appear.’
Struggling: Isabelle Brennan still cannot walk without help