This was one of our highlights of our trip – I would never have thought that we were going to see tigers that close. In fact, we even got to touch them. Of course, they were not living in the wild, they were kept in a tiger sanctuary in Chiang Mai. I’m not sure if that’s the best way to keep them, I’d rather see them in the wild, but I doubt there is any wildlife left where they could roam freely without being disturbed!
When we arrived, we could pick, which tigers (large, medium, small and smallest is the choice) we wanted to meet. The prices differ, the largest tigers (above 24 months) are the cheapest to visit, while the smallest (the 3 months old cubs) ones are the most expensive ones. There are also packages, where you can see all tigers or two different age groups. We thought about it and just opted for the smallest tigers – the medium and large ones looked too big and scary. Even if they seemed friendly and relaxed, I doubt that I want to be in a cage with a full-grown tiger. I am sure even the smallest one can do a lot of harm, so I don’t even want to think what a teenager or adult tiger would do!
From the entrance area we could see the cage with the large tigers. They were fully grown and not chained up. They were free to walk around their pen, even with people in them.
We were told that these tigers had been around humans their whole lives and they were used to being touched by strangers. Still, it was weird to watch a big tiger resting on a bench and a person walking up to him, patting his back and then holding the tiger’s tail in his hands (we saw this a lot, it seems to be a typical photo opportunity). I did not feel too comfortable watching this, it looked humiliating, given the tiger is the king of the jungle!
Then it was our turn, our group number was called and we were escorted to the cage with the three-month old tiger cubs. We walked past a garden with butterflies and parrots. All the animal accommodation was spotlessly clean. I never saw a bit of faeces anywhere. There was of smell urine and only the faintest scent of ‘Tiger’ when one got close. Not a bone or feather anywhere either.
Before entering, we had to remove our shoes and wash our hands. After doing so, we were free to enter with one of the volunteer handlers. Once inside the cage, our guide helped us approach the tigers and taught us the rules: no touching the head or front paws.
After a few minutes, we became more comfortable with the tigers, who were very sleepy and relaxed.
Initially I was a little worried, I’ve had read that some places drug their animals, so they let people close to them without attacking them – but the guide explained that it’s the normal behaviour at lunch time. When it’s hot and sunny, tigers just rest and try to sleep. They are more active in the mornings and evenings, when it’s not as hot. Therefore, there is no need to drug the tigers. Plus why would they want to harm the animals?
We had 15 mins in the room, and it was interesting to get so close to the tiger babies – they hardly smelled of wild animal. Rather than playing with us humans, they enjoyed more playing with each other – and that’s great, that’s how it should be!
Afterwards, we kept walking around the small park – it’s not big, just 7-8 enclosures that differed in size and shape and held varying numbers of animals. Each enclosure had a pool for swimming. These were either full or being refilled. The water was spotlessly clean. There were scratching logs of large size and they seemed to be in good use!
Overall it was a really pleasant experience at Tiger Kingdom, I really enjoyed getting close to the baby tigers. It’s just a shame that there is no education about tigers and no conservation project. I wonder what happens once the tigers are getting older, will they just be shipped to another zoo? Where does the Tiger Kingdom get its young cubs from, are they breeding them on a large scale?
- Tiger Kingdom is located in Mae Rim, about 25 minutes by Tuk Tuk from Chiang Mai – every tuk tuk and taxi driver knows how to get there, it’s one of the most popular attractions
- When you enter the park and pay for a ticket, you also receive a tiger insurance, in case something happens to you… good to know, as I doubt a normal insurance would cover tiger bites!
- As far as I know, there has not been any serious accident at Tiger Kingdom – but of course, you can get scratches. The tigers have claws, but they have been taught not to use them