Playing with Tigers
The Tiger Kingdom is an amazing place! You get to go into the cages and play with Tigers. And by “play” I mean walk up quietly behind them and pet their tails, hind legs, and stomachs. This is something that, because of the obviously liability concerns, would never happen in the U.S. One common critique is that these Tigers must be drugged; but the staff and signs at the facility all say otherwise. They seemed as active as I would expect Tigers to be (clearly I’m an expert since I’ve been around a tiger one time now) and they’re obviously over fed so that hunger is not one of their primary concerns. Visiting is obviously straddling the figurative ethical line, but I’m not going to discuss that here; I’d rather tell you about my experience which was a ton of fun. And an about equal amount of terrifying!
There are a few different packages to see the different age ranges of Tigers: Smallest, Small, Medium, and Big. If you bought all of them together you also got one of the sessions photographed with their photographer. There was no question in my mind, so I eagerly forked over 1900 Baht (around $60 USD) and let the adventure begin. Brian bought a slightly smaller package that didn’t include the Medium tigers, so he and I played photographer for each other on all of the other exhibits.
We started with the Small Tigers. These guys were between 4-8 months old and were the most playful bunch. We had to wash our hands and put on special rubber sandals. We weren’t allowed to take in anything other than our camera which meant I had to run out to replace my 32 GB memory card which I filled about halfway through.
They have at minimum one trainer per tiger with you at all times which is reassuring. They helped guide us about what we were able to do. Tigers are large cats, and like most cats they sleep a lot: upwards of 18 hours a day. So it was no surprise to see a few Tigers sleeping. We’d always approach them from behind and were instructed not to ever touch their head or front paws. Needless to say I made sure to VERY CAREFULLY read ALL of the Terms and Conditions.
The instructor told me I could lie down on the baby tiger and use him as a pillow, so I carefully inched my way forward. After I was lying down trying awkwardly to support my own neck so that I wouldn’t put too much weight on his belly and perhaps wake him up or worse provoke him the trainer grabbed the cats paws and wrapped it around my neck. I was just a little scared, but softly yelled to Brian to take my picture; you’ll notice the awkward smile.
Next up was the smallest of the tigers. These were 2-3 months old. As you might expect they were adorable. But they also were much less active than the slightly larger ones. Most of them were sleeping or would play with you for a little bit and then hide in the corner to sleep.
We got to spend between 15-20 minutes with each group of tigers. After the baby tigers we headed over to the larger enclosures. I headed into the medium tigers enclosure (9-12 months) and was followed in by one of the trainers with a Nikon camera. If you ever go, I highly recommend paying the extra 299 Baht or buying the all-inclusive package. The reason is because these photographers coordinate with the trainers to get the tigers to “pose” in much more photogenic positions. They’ll play with the tigers to get them yawn. But since there’s no sound a yawn is as good as a roar. Just checkout some of the pictures of me with the “roaring” tigers 😉
Next up were the Big Tigers (13-30 months). One reason that I was a tad bit nervous was that it was only a few months ago that another tourist was mauled by one of the big tigers in their sister location in Phuket.
But naturally I threw caution to the wind and in we went. They had a few more trainers in this cage, but even so we tried to be as quiet, slow, and careful as we could. You’re never supposed to run or move too fast because it apparently triggers the tigers into a natural instinct that they’re supposed to attack!
After exiting the enclosure unscathed we spent the remaining time watching the albino tigers and checking out a few of the babies that were just born. Overall a really fun way to spend an afternoon and something you absolutely have to do when visiting northern Thailand. After a day with the elephants at Patara this was my second favorite activity in Chiang Mai.