I wasn’t going to go to Tiger Kingdom because of its bad rep of animal welfare but after many recommendations I decided to give it a go. Tiger Kingdom offers a really amazing and unique opportunity and experience to get up close to these animals, and I was also keen to see for myself the conditions and care that these animals receive.
The Chaing Mai branch is a fair drive away from the city centre, but we managed to organise a taxi ride for 700 Baht return (That’s about 14 pounds). This was one of the pricier taxi rides we paid for, but it’s a 40 minute journey each way and the driver waited for us at the venue for about an hour and half, so I don’t feel like 14 pounds was too bad. You’d probably have to pay closer to six times that amount back home! Just be aware and factor this cost and time in if you have any other plans for the day.
We bought our entry tickets on the day, and decided to go for the ‘level 4’ package which involves seeing the ‘smallest’, ‘small’, ‘medium’ and ‘large’ tigers. I was unsure about how many of the animals I’d want to see until I got there, so this worked out well. From memory I’m pretty sure this cost in the 2500 Baht/£60 region.
We made our way through the different sizes (they’re all kept in enclosures with animals of a similar size, I’m assuming to prevent any bullying and to help with administrative things like feeding), starting off with the smallest. This was a good move as it allows you to build your confidence going into the enclosures with what is essentially something that could eat you. No joke, could snap you like a twig and bite your limbs off before you have a chance to scream. Just saying.
The ‘smallest’ tigers (around the 6 month old mark) seemed pretty harmless, though, so getting in the enclosure with them was no great shakes. They were more like overgrown house cats than fearsome beasts, and their disproportionately large paws were more adorable than fearsome. Probably something to do with the lack of rippling muscle in the arms and razor-sharp claws. Maybe.
They were just incredibly cute. The wardens were wary, though, and kept their heads a safe distance away from you by distracting the cubs with toys and calls. It was close to feeding time, and later in the afternoon when we arrived, so they were in their more playful and active time. They were playful little mites, that’s for sure, playing with each other and squirming around like overgrown kittens.
The ‘small’ tigers, who were essentially still cubs but in the 11-12 month age range, were actually the scariest of all the tiger enclosures, in my opinion. They still had that spritely innocence to them, but add to that a concoction of bold inquisitiveness, inexperience and a much more ‘grown up tiger’ size, and you’ve got a potential disaster waiting to happen. Since I saw the ‘small’ tigers second
The medium tigers were probably my favourites, they were still fairly small in size compared to the largest, and they still had the remnants of those cute, shaggy fluffy coats.
The large tigers were gorgeous. They were just so majestic and stunning, with fully developed coats which had lost that ‘fluffy’ look of adolescence. They looked like members of the cat royalty; there was something really regal about them. These were also, surprisingly, the most chilled out of all the tigers. I got the feeling that they were of the age and experience that they knew exactly what was going on and were completely bored of these weird humans who come and sit next to them every day. Since they’ve had this treatment their whole lives, it’s a bit old hat and they’re more bored than distressed by it.
That said, it’s obviously not an ideal situation for these animals to be in. In an ideal world they’d be free, out in the jungle, living their life like their wild brothers and sisters. These are domesticated animals, though, and I got the distinct impression that they wouldn’t be able to function in the same way out there in the real world like a tiger that was born free. Tiger Kingdom also pride themselves with their conservation efforts, particularly their current breeding program with their white Siberian pair. That’s pretty cool, it has to be said.
Where animal welfare is concerned, my verdict is that Tiger Kingdom isn’t really any worse a fate than any other caged tiger – any tiger in captivity isn’t going to have the optimal life but that’s not something exclusive to Tiger Kingdom. The enclosures weren’t exactly huge, but in my experience the same can be said for many of the zoos in the UK.
In terms of whether they are drugged in order to tranquilise them so that tourists can get close, I really didn’t get the impression that this was the case. Like I mentioned, we went in the mid to late afternoon, which is approaching the tigers’ feeding time, so we went at a time when they are much more active. Looking up images on Instagram (#tigerkingdom), I got the impression that those who went in the morning had more chilled out animals. Tigers are nocturnal naturally, though, so this would make sense. Maybe I’m just being incredibly naive and hoping for the tigers’ sake that they aren’t darted, but it seemed to me that it’s more likely something that is trained into them after being born in captivity.
What are your thoughts on Tiger Kingdom? Would you go if you went to Thailand or do you think this treatment of animals is wrong? Let me know in the comments!