I am ashamed to admit that I went to Tiger Kingdom, Chiang Mai in August. I had a completely conflicted mind prior to going after having read a huge mix of reviews on trip advisor but then the curiosity got the better of me. The once in a lifetime opportunity of being able to be so close to a tiger ended up swaying me. The conclusion that I’ve since come to is that the MANY positive reviews must be from people who either don’t care in the slightest about animal welfare or have convinced themselves that this tourist attraction is somehow doing the tigers a favour so that they don’t feel the guilt.
When we arrived we were greeted by a friendly lady who talked us through each of the packages available to buy. We opted to see the ‘small’ tigers (not actually all that small!) and the ‘large’ tigers. My initial thought on arriving was how much the entrance reminded me of a theme park, there were photos on big screens all over the walls and the atmosphere felt quite cheesy. I was hoping to be given information about the breeding programme and about the tigers in general, but appeared to be none. Once we paid and signed an insurance agreement we were walked through a gate to where the tigers were. It pretty much looked like a regular zoo but for tigers, so nothing too alarming at first. When it comes to whether the animals are drugged or not, I’m not convinced that ALL of them are, a lot of the tigers we saw looked VERY awake to me, but some of them certainly seemed far too sleepy/apathetic to humans getting all in their personal space.
The time in the enclosures pretty much consisted of the ‘trainer’ holding only a bamboo stick (which the tigers were VERY afraid of… alarm bells ringing), whilst trying to convince us to pose for ridiculous photos such as lying on the tigers belly and holding it’s tail – these ones were more than likely drugged. My cat wouldn’t even let me hold her tail without trying to claw me. We took our own cameras in to take photos and the photos just go to show how small these enclosures are for the amount of tigers. There is literally nowhere for the tigers to roam and there is just concrete. An attempt to replicate their natural habitat doesn’t appear to have crossed anybody’s mind.
I must admit, immediately after my Tiger Kingdom experience I was pretty giddy at having been so close to a real tiger but that feeling quickly wore off and now all I’m left with is guilt and anger. I really do wish now that I stuck with my gut instinct not to go to Tiger Kingdom.
This whole experience has made me question other ways that we inadvertently support animal cruelty, even in the UK, such as through visiting Zoos where the animals are usually living in enclosures that are far too small, buying products from companies that animal test (any companies that sell their products to China are required by Chinese law to animal test) and actually, just eating meat (hence the reason as of a month ago, I am now vegetarian). I’m not perfect and I don’t want to preach but if everybody did their bit it could really make a difference.
My advice to anybody unsure of whether to go to Tiger Kingdom is to listen to your gut feeling. I know curiosity is hard to put to the back of your mind but by paying you are supporting this kind of treatment, the only way that these kinds of places are ever going to shut down is if tourists just stop going all together.