I have been waiting for more than two years before actually visiting the Tiger Kingdom in Chiangmai. Again and again I read new articles, watched new videos and contributions talking about the park and its practices. When it comes to the Tiger Kingdom, the opinions are quite divided.
On the one hand there are many people who write the tigers are stunned, are put under drugs so that people can go in the cage with them. It is all about the money and one should not support this in any way. Without even thinking about it, one agrees on the inside. How else is it possible that a tiger is sitting so calm just next to you.
On the other side, you can find posts written by people who helped voluntarily in the park for several months. Working closely with the big cats and their trainers. You don't read anything about anesthesia, no force and no punishment. On the contrary, if you read for example this article of Vicky on paintmeparadise you suddenly get a completely different picture of the situation.
In the end, I no longer knew what to believe. The negative voices often come from people who have just made a stop in the park. So I made up my mind that I had to see it for myself. Be there, go into the cage myself and see what the Tiger Kingdom in Chiangmai is all about and how the animals are actually doing.
What exactly does the Tiger Kingdom do?
The Tiger Kingdom is a tiger breeding program that was originally part of the Ubon Zoo. Since the program was quite successful early on, the number of tigers rose too quickly. Suddenly, the zoo had to feed way too many of the big cats (currently 50-60 tigers) while the income remained the same. Thus, the Tiger Kingdom was founded to cover the costs of the program.
The tigers are raised up by hand by the trainers. These trainers are also the only reason why you can go inside the cage with them. Once a tiger is older than 4 years, it is too dangerous for such interactions. Tigers that are too old to be an active part of the Tiger Kingdom often end up in zoos or in a so-called "tiger retirement park".
Unfortunately, releasing these tigers into the wild is impossible. They're too used and attached to humans. But in the long run, breeding programs like these could be a part of something bigger that ultimately leads to an increasing population of wild tigers.
Anaesthetization at the Tiger Kingdom in Chiangmai
Even at the risk that I judge this one incorrectly, I say these tigers are by no means stunned or somehow sedated. That's good for the tiger but at the same time that gets your heart pumping quite quickly once one of these massive cats jumps up right next to you. I swear, I thought that was it - my life's over. Luckily, this big guy wasn't hungry. He was only up for some stretching and water.
Most of the time, the cats just lay around. Fact is, tigers like any other cat love to sleep or doze. They spent the majority (between 18 - 20 hours) of the day laying on the ground. I know that doesn't sound spectacular but that's just how it is.
Nevertheless, people keep on reporting that the tigers are stunned, anesthetized, or immobilized in one way or another. This has mostly to do with some really nasty parks that are known to use such practices.
Training the Tigers
So if the tigers are not sedated, why does nothing happen? Well, the tigers are cared for by humans from an early age and are downright dependent. Directly after the birth they are separated from the mummy and brought up with the bottle. -That is a part of the sad secret.
The other part lies in the "training". The tigers are trained to behave and you can immediately notice how much respect they have of the bamboo stick of their trainers. I knew the bamboo stick as "training means" already, Elephants are also often "trained" that way.
How it works (and they don't tell you): From an early age on, tigers get a blow on their nose with a bamboo stick if they show aggressive behavior. Just like Pavlovian's dog they're conditioned to not be aggressive towards humans. Not the nicest kind of training and quite outdated if you ask me.
Realizing that this intimidation leads to the tigers just letting stuff happen mad me quite sad. Now I was in a cage with a majestic, adult tiger - my favorite animals - and the only reason they don't react is that they're intimidated by a stick and their trainers. -There are better experiences than that.
How it feels to be in the cage
If you're meeting smallest tigers, they even enjoy these encounters to a certain extent. After all, they're small kittens that need lots of action and attention. But the older the tigers become the more you feel the tension. They may be used be pet by their trainers but not be complete strangers.
If one wants to the tigers in the cage one has the choice between:
- Cub - very small and only a few weeks/months old
- Smallest - small, about 3-5 months
- Small - about the size of a Golden Retriever, 5-10 months and about 50 Kg
- Medium - already very big, 11-18 months and about 120 Kg
- Big - more than 2 years old and more than 200 Kg
- Giant - about 3 years old and weighing over 250 Kg
I "only" had encounters with Small, Medium, and Big. At the moment I visited, there were no smaller ones. I had a quick look at the giants but at this time I already was quite sad about the whole situation. Plus, I almost had a heart attack meeting a big guy - and I didn't feel like dying that day.
The positive about Tiger Kingdom
Tigers will become extinct in the wild. Right now, there are only 6 subspecies of the tiger left; -In the wild there are even less. Since humans spread further and further, it won't take long until there are no more tigers roaming freely in the wild.
Therefore it is important to ensure that tigers do not go extinct. Breeding programs can play a key role in this. And after all, that's how the Tiger Kingdom came to life. The problem is that organizations need to be able to pay for this high amount of giant cats. They need space, they need care, and they need food.
Therefore, the breeding program itself is a good thing; -But unfortunately, financing it by generating money with tiger encounters is the wrong way to go.
Training tigers with bamboo sticks and making them dependent cannot be the way. A tiger is not a pet, and certainly not a selfie accessory. I understand that they need to finance their breeding program, but please, do it in another way. How about purchasing more land where tigers could roam freely? Offering some kind of Safari instead of direct interactions.
Exhibition of the tiniest Tigers
There's one more thing I did not want to withhold from you, which unfortunately does not fit with the rest of the article. During my visit there were newborn white tigers, so small that their eyes were still closed. One was not allowed to stroke them (thank god), but they were "exhibited" so that everyone could see them.
For me this was the saddest point of the whole day. They were not left alone, and there was always someone who looked after them, but why the hell do the little ones have to be put on display. I don't understand this at all.
Even if the tigers are not sedated, I will not go back into the enclosure. After what I have seen with my own eyes and what I have experienced there, I can not justify another visit with myself.
Yes, it's an intense and beautiful feeling to see these amazing animals up close, but it hurts to see how the cats are treated to behave calmly.
I honestly hope that Tiger Kingdom in Chiang Mai and Phuket will soon find alternative ways to make money.
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