Going to Thailand, I wanted to fulfill my lifelong desire to be in close proximity to tigers. However when visiting Thailand, you need to be careful about what tourist attractions that involve animals are humane or not. So, I went through intense research to make my wish come true.
In my research, I found the Tiger Kingdom in Chiang Mai. After searching through websites, blog posts, and first hand accounts from volunteers that worked at the facility, I came to the conclusion that this place was everything I could want.
The Tiger Kingdom has more than one facility, spread throughout Thailand. unfortunately, they are constantly plagued by doubt and accusations of drugging and abuse.
In my experience at the Chiang Mai facility in the summer of 2017, I found these accusations to be untrue. These cats are very well taken care of and the center is used as a way to educate tourists about tigers and how their numbers are slowly dwindling due to loss of habitat.
As I was only a visitor, you may not take my word for it, but if you look at first hand accounts of volunteers at the sanctuary, they will tell you that these cats are not drugged. It would be inhumane and actually dangerous to drug them, dangerous both to tourists and to the tigers. But how are they so friendly then? Well, I would say less friendly and more tolerant, at least to tourists. With their handlers, some of the tigers are downright cuddly.
The tigers are raised by hand from the day they are born, and as I have found from research, captive tiger moms have a harder time raising their young, sometimes having little interest in them and leaving them to survive by themselves. This is why the cubs are usually separated from their mothers. This close proximity to the trainers and people means that growing up, they are more tolerant of people and will allow them to be around and touch them.
However, they are still wild animals. There are strict rules when entering their habitats. When the tigers are sleepy and lazy, they are easier to access. When they are playful, you must let them do what they want. The trainers will never make them do anything, and instruct you to never get in a tiger’s path and to never be near its face. When they are laying down, you can pat them put not pet them, the difference is that tigers like strong pats instead of tentative stroking, because it puts them on edge. Sometimes the trainers will use giant bamboo poles with objects tied at the end to play with the cats, like a cat toy. The poles are never used to hit or poke the tigers, only for playing.
The rules above go for both the older tigers and the cubs, but the cubs slightly less restrictions. With the cubs, you must let them do what they want, but they’re going to want to play with you and nip at your clothes. This is why shirts are provided to put over your clothes. The cubs are adorable and most of the time spent with them will be squealing over their cuteness while they play with toys.
There are different kinds of tigers available to see, as well as lions. When I was there, we were able to see a baby white tiger, a teenage lion, and a giant tiger. There are height requirements to be able to see the adult lions and tigers, and you must be 18 years or older as well. Each experience will cost a different amount of money, and there will be picture packages included in the prices. You’re also welcome to use your phone and take as many photos as you want, but the trainers usually take nicer ones because they know the tigers better. My advice? See a baby tiger and a giant tiger and get a package that includes photos.
I highly recommend the Tiger Kingdom, the trainers love their tigers and treat them with utmost respect. But I understand how it’s hard to take my advice when I don’t have first hand experience of what happens behind the scenes. Because of this, I offer this link:
This is a first hand experience of someone who volunteered for two different years at Tiger Kingdom, she has more information about their health and the future plans for Tiger Kingdom.