Temple for Tigers or Glorified Zoo?

As the sun rises over the jungles of western Thailand, light streaks through dense foliage until it strikes a magnificent temple.

There, monks begin their morning chants as some rather unique co-inhabitants prowl around.

The Wat Pa Laung Ta Bua Yannasampanno Forest Monastary, also known by the apt nickname Tiger Temple, in Kanchanburi, Thailand, is home to 34 tigers.

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According to the abbot, Acharn Phoosit, a long time ago, a tiger cub whose mother had been killed by poachers, was brought to the temple. Word spread and more people brought cubs to the abbot so he could care for them.

VIDEO: Baby tigers and monks at the Tiger Temple in Thailand.Play

Those cubs went on to have their own cubs and, nine years later, there are 34 tigers living there.

"I think that they are my babies, my son, my daughter, my father, my mother," the Phoosit said. "If not in the present life, in the past life."

To keep up with the booming tiger population, and the temple's popularity among tourists, Phoosit has hired more than 50 people to help take care of his family.

Every afternoon, tourists from across the world flock to the temple where they pay anywhere from $15 to $50 to take photographs and pet the tigers.

For travelers, like Ann from Australia, it's "the reason [she] came to Thailand."

But not everyone is buying into the seemingly fairy tale temple. Many conservationists dismiss the temple as a glorified petting zoo. There have been accusations of drugging and mistreatment of the animals.

"The only thing until now that the Tiger Temple has shown people is that you can make a lot of money by keeping tigers in captivity by pretending you're working on conservation," Edwin Wiek, director of the Wildlife Friends Foundation in Thailand, told "Good Morning America."

Phoosit responded simply, "If someone [has a] question, OK, come and see."

He said his dream is to repopulate the forests of Thailand with the descendants of his tigers.