Tigers. You love, respect, and fear them all at the same time. In Asian cultures, tigers are known to represent the virtue of courage. Their rich black and gold stripes are a sight on their own. Tigers are a solitary silent hunter who stalk, rather than chase its prey, representing our quest for the silent peace of the soul. It symbolizes removing all distractions from the mind and being purely focused on the present moment, something I strive to maintain on a daily basis.
I’ve always had a fascination with these creatures. The name ‘tiger’ is taken from the Greek word ‘tigris’, a derivative of the Persian word for arrow, referring to the animal’s great speed. I also learned that most tigers have over 100 stripes. Like a human’s fingerprint, the patterns on tigers are unique to each animal and can be used to identify individuals. The wildlife conservation group WWF says wild tiger populations have dropped sharply across Asia and may soon be wiped out. The WWF says Asia’s wild tiger population numbered around 100,000 a century ago but, due to poaching and human activity, only an estimated 3,200 remain today, about half of them in India. Several Asian nations including China, Nepal, Japan, South Korea and Thailand have endorsed tough protections for tigers in the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). The measures commit the countries to enact laws banning the trade of tiger derivatives, preserve tiger habitat, and form a regional network to halt tiger trade.
In September, I decided to take a trip to beautiful Thailand! I definitely had my bucket list, however interacting with some tigers was on my “top 3”. When I arrived in Chaing Mai, Thailand, I did some research and was told I should go visit the ‘Tiger Kingdom.” I was just as skeptical as many are about visiting Tiger Kingdom, given all the controversy and animal right issues. I decided to see for myself and make up my own mind. I hired a tuk tuk for the day and was on my way. It seemed to be one of those things where people either heard about it or didn’t. When I arrived, I was surprised at the crowd! As I stood in line, we had the option to spend 15 minutes with a baby tiger, the largest tiger (22mos) or both. I say go big or go home so I went with the big ones! It cost me around $15 and I was ushered to a waiting area before entering.
As we were escorted into the kingdom, I couldn’t help but gasp at all the tigers around. It was like a jungle with signs pointing to different areas with different sized tigers, all raised in this area and trained to be around people. I walked by all the cages in awe at their beautiful colors, their enormous bodies and incredible eyes. They had such poise and beauty that was truly breathtaking. Soon, my name was called and a trainer explained a few safely precaution before entering into the grassy area to interact with the larger tigers. Then, I headed in! To my surprise I got to interact with 3 22month old tigers, 2 females and 1 male. Took m breath away to be inches from these powerful animals. They clearly have been exposed to MANY people and it was as if I was just another number to them. They hardly flinched as I was slowly got behind them shaking, not quite sure if this was really happening. The trainer kept saying, get closer, lay on him, give him/her a hug, rub his belly and here I am going, “You’ve got to be kidding me!” I couldn’t stop smiling; soaking in this wild experience knowing this was the closest I would ever be with these absolutely beautiful creatures.
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised. The tigers definitely did not look or act drugged. If you read about tigers in general, you will find out that they do sleep normally throughout most part of the day. It is important to remember these are captive tigers. They have grown up around humans and wouldn’t survive in the wild. The place is very efficiently run and the affection the trainers/volunteers have for the animals is evident. The place is very clean and well cared for. Yes, it’s a commercial enterprise but not at the expense of the animals.
Would tigers be better off in the wild? – Of course. Is it a shame that they have to put up with tourists to make money to keep them and breed them? – Absolutely. But the fact is numbers of tigers in the wild are dropping and while it’s not ideal, the Tiger Kingdom is successfully breading tigers in reasonable conditions (for tigers in captivity).
For more information, check out their website! Cheers!