Meet Lulu – a 2.5 month old cute little bundle of stripy fur about the size of a poodle. Last week we got up to get up close and personal (a little too personal if you take into account the pee that almost got on my feet) with her at Tiger Kingdom, just outside Chiang Mai. We played with her, held her while she was sleeping and followed her around the cage, while Colin got close to some of the largest tigers in the centre. Our visit to Tiger Kingdom was part of a half day trip to Tiger Kingdom and the Mae Sa Elephant Park. If you haven’t read about our visit to the elephants already, here’s our trip report from Mae Sa Elephant Camp.
Approach with care …
During our visit, Colin spent some time voluntarily locked up in a cage with what Tiger Kingdom classes to be their ‘biggest’ tigers. Actuarlly he more than volunteered – he paid for the experience! And quite frankly these tigers were huge. I’m not sure I could have gone in the cage with them. Colin’s tip after being in a cage with three big cats? “Approach them with a lot of caution … a lot like approaching Tracy early in the morning”.
There were a lot of rules about going in with these guys, and understandably so considering you’re entering a cage with three tigers over 130kg each. Colin had to stay at the back of the tigers most of the time, taking care to stay away from the mouth and front legs – apparently this isn’t because the tiger would try to kill you. They’re pretty tame … or rather as tame as an undomesticated tiger is ever going to be. If you go near their mouth or front legs then the tigers will think its play time. Playtime is all well and good with a kitten or baby tiger … but with a 130kg adult tiger with fangs the size of my fingers …
… frankly I think Colin’s odds would be slightly better against me in the morning.
Colin’s final verdict about his encounter with the big cats? “Intimidating but freaking awesome.”
Can you believe that this guy is only half grown? He’s 2.5 years old and is expected to get to 250kg by the time he’s 5.
Playing with the smallest tigers
Remember Lulu? Everyone agreed at the end of the day that going into the cage with the smallest tigers was the best part of the day. She was pretty sleepy when we first went in, so everyone had a gentle pat and we even got to sit as a family with her on our laps.
The staff let Noah try to feed her milk but as soon as she realised there were little people closer to her size in the cage she just wanted to play. Colin spent a few minutes wrestling with her like you would a puppy before she decided to follow the kids around the cage in search of a game.
Cute shot right of me with the baby tiger? Oh wait, what’s that puddle? Yes that’s right, even in a tiger cage I can’t escape kids and potty accidents.
As cute as these guys are, Tiger Kingdom had some new additions – 2 week old cubs. Being so small you could only view them in their nursery from a distance. But they were adorable and made the most bizarre noise.
Drugged Tigers? Not that we could see
Tiger Kingdom is one of several places in Thailand that allow visitors to get up and close with tigers. Some of the tiger encounters experiences have a very bad reputations for mistreatment of animals, particularly drugging the tigers so they are docile and compliant enough for the tourists to pat. We were a little dubious about visiting Tiger Kingdom because of the bad reputation the other places have, but it was high on Colin and Daniel’s ‘must do’ lists for Thailand so off we set. I’m happy to say we saw no evidence of drugged tigers. Yes many of them were sleeping but considering we were there in the middle of a hot day and they’re generally semi-nocturnal animals anyway it’s not surprising they were napping. Those that were awake seemed alert and well … playful.
Given the name of the place was “Tiger Kingdom” I was half expecting to arrive and see tigers living in a semi-free range setting as kings of their domain, but they were mostly in medium size cages, similar to what you’d see in any zoo. Nice cages as you can see in the picture below of Daniel with the small tigers (yes small, these guys are only 1 year old), but cages non-the-less. They are definitely captive animals, living out their lives behind walls but they seemed content enough.
The tiger’s were born here and have never known anything different. Does that make it alright? I’m not sure. It is a little sad that the only life they know is one where human after human comes into the cage to pat them for human amusement. Seeing the baby tigers, especially the littlest 2 week old ones, in cages without their mothers was unbelievably sad considering in the wild tigers stay with their mothers until they reach 18 months. I assume this is done so the tigers get used to human contact from a very early age. Yes, not everything about Tiger Kingdom is perfect and as much as I enjoyed my time there I also feel saddened by the place. But zoos are sad, elephant shows are sad, big dogs locked in small yards all day while their owners are a work are sad. It doesn’t make it right but hopefully at least some of the visitors come away and try to improve the lot of animals in the wild or in zoos.
The trainer’s were all very kind and genuinely seemed to love both the animals and their job’s. In today’s modern world, probably the only better place a tiger can live is deep in the remotest rainforest far away from hunters and humans. But you do also need to ask yourself how these trainers train essentially wild animals vastly larger and stronger than themselves. Are those sticks they carry just to make a loud noise with … or do the tigers get beaten when no tourists are around? I don’t know the answer to that.
Did we see anything terrible during our visit? Perhaps not terrible, but the gift shop filled with faux-fur items for sale was perhaps in very bad taste for a tiger conservation park. What do you think? The kids were only allowed to go into any of the larger tiger cages, only the smallest 2.5 month old tigers. I guess they would have been too tempting a snack even for the most well behaved tiger! Our friends toddler (under 18 months) wasn’t allowed to enter any of the cages. I paid to just go into the smallest tiger cage with the kids, while Colin paid to go into the largest and smallest cages.
Want to visit yourself? Here’s some more info on Tiger Kingdom
Tiger Kingdom is a 10km Song Thaew ride from Chiang Mai and completely worth the trip. Our visit here will definitely make it into our Top 5 list for this year, assuming we ever get around to writing it! A trip to Tiger Kingdom should cost 200 baht return, 200-300 baht if you want to visit the elephants as well. When you arrive at Tiger Kingdom you have to choose what you’d like to do. To just enter the park and walk around without going into any of the tiger cages is 320 baht for children and 520 baht for adults. Its the exact same price to go into at least one tiger cage. After that, the more tigers you want to visit the more it costs. To enter two cages was 890 baht and to visit four cages was 1900 baht (I can’t remember what 3 cages was but you get the idea). Visitors can choose to go into the smallest, small, medium and/or large tiger cages, or any combination thereof. If you’re on a budget, we’d definitely recommend just going into the smallest tiger cage. The big guys are awe-inspiring and humbling, but the babies are so adorable and fun.