Do I regret going to Tiger Kingdom in Thailand?
As an animal lover, a lot of experiences on my bucket list are animal related. In fact, at 12 years old I wrote a letter to myself to open when I was 18 to see if I had achieved my dreams (obviously no idea of reality at that age!). I actually found this letter hidden away when I was almost 20 and it was a lovely read. My biggest dream was to own a wildlife sanctuary in the UK, helping to rescue injured animals and release them back into the wild.
Although not my dream anymore (however if I won the lottery maybe I would…) I still love animals, in particular seeing them out in the wild.
So when my husband and I went on a backpacking trip around South East Asia in 2013 I was very excited about seeing some exotic wild animals. I’d done lots of research and knew there were exciting animal experiences to be had there, in particular in Thailand.
I spent a lot of time researching, ensuring the animal experiences we wanted to do were sustainable and good for the animals.
I couldn’t bear the idea of anything cruel going on.
But one day on the return from another trip in Chiang Mai we drove past Tiger Kingdom and, with a huge rush of adrenaline, asked the Tuk Tuk to stop and we went in.
I hadn’t researched this.
But I was absolutely buzzing at not only seeing tiger cubs but being able to touch them – actually touch them!
This was a once in a lifetime opportunity which we just had to take. Everywhere there were signs about their conservation efforts, as well as how they look after them. It looked like a professional and reliable place, and I started to believe this was a good establishment.
We decided to only see the cubs, partially because it cost a lot more to go in with the adult cats and partially because I was a bit nervous about doing that. These are wild animals right!?
We first got to go in with 5-month-old cubs, followed by some time in a playpen with 3-month-old cubs.
Honestly, the cubs were gorgeous, just as gorgeous as you see in documentary programmes, and their fur was thick and soft.
The first playpen with the 5-month-old cubs had four in there, and they were mostly asleep or playing in a docile manner. The handler had a camera and was pushy in getting us to pose and it was a rushed experience.
I was so in awe at first I just wanted to look at them, gently touch them, but he got us to pose. The weirdest one was getting us to rest our heads on their little bodies. I held myself rigid not wanting to put too much weight on them, plus my face is right by his face – what if he just lashed out? Again, they are wild animals right!? It was all a bit odd, but damn those cubs were cute, so who cares if the trainer was bossy.
Not long after this, we went into the next playpen with two small 3-month-old cubs. My god, they were beautiful.
These two cubs were more playful, and at one point even climbing onto Phil’s lap and suddenly jumping up to bite his chest (actually his nipple!) not hard, it was very much a play bite like a kitten would. I laughed and enjoyed seeing them being more playful and natural. Again, however, this visit was brief and we were ushered out quite quickly.
It was after we returned home, and off the travelling high that I started to reflect on the experience.
I put a photo on Facebook and a friend even commenting saying ‘isn’t that the place where they drug them’. I was so defensive quick to say no (as there were signs that said they didn’t) and described how that one cub had jumped up at Phil. How can they be drugged if he was so spritely?
But that comment did stay with me and I was worried.
At the time there wasn’t really anything available on the internet to question its legitimacy. There were animal rights people commenting but these were people who also hated zoos or disliked any human involvement with animals. So it seemed that was just all it was.
Of course, it has all changed in the past few years and there have been investigations that have proved, indeed, Tiger centres are not exactly what they made out to be.
There are another two Tiger centres called ‘Tiger Temple’ that has been proven to have been abusive towards their animals, and they are now infamous. There has been no evidence as of yet to condemn Tiger Kingdom, however, I am now sceptical about a centre that is so similar in design. Through research, it seems that Tiger Kingdom is seen as substantially better than the others, yet the concept is now questionable to me.
Not wrong, just questionable.
All in all, I don’t know whether I regret it all not. In a lot of ways I do because even if Tiger Kingdom is treating its animals well, I believe as a tourist you do have a responsibility to the local area and I really want to support things I am confident is right.
The other problem is the copycat establishments that only see the ‘tourist dollar’ and will try to create the same, not necessarily with the animals in mind. See Tiger Temple – they were very successful with tourists and the people would keep coming, unaware of the horror they were inflicting behind closed doors.
A World Wildlife Fund (WWF) report found 76 percent of visitors to the Tiger farms in Thailand were unaware of inhumane treatment of tigers.
Not surprising at all.
WWF asked 2,000 people across Britain and found millennials were most likely to visit the farms. However, in really positive news the report also said that since learning about the treatment of animals, 86 per cent were keen to see all tiger farms closed. Again proving I think the majority of tourists don’t actually support inhumane treatment of animals.
It is easy to convince yourself that something is ok if you want it badly enough.
And I’m not going to pretend I didn’t enjoy touching those cubs, but the truth is I cannot with full confidence know that I wasn’t participating in animal cruelty, and by even being there I would have been supporting that if they were.
Now I’m an advocate for wild animal experiences only (and some accredited zoos/rehabilitation centres or sanctuaries) and would advise if this is something you can’t miss out on, could you go volunteer towards helping them?
There are even volunteer opportunities where you might even see them in the wild. Get your Google on and see what you come up with, try something like ‘volunteering for tiger conservation’ and you will get a whole list of reputable companies you could consider supporting or joining. Insert whatever animal you are passionate about.
Warning signs to look for
Here are some warning signs of animal experiences that may not be the kind to support:
Are the animals doing unnatural tasks, activities or behaviours? For example, if they are painting or dancing on demand.
Do the animals themselves look ill or poorly cared for? Don’t listen to excuses why they look like they do.
Make sure you do your research in advance. Whether it’s Tripadvisor or blogs like this one of personal experiences. Do your reading and make your own decision.What are the majority of people saying? Do they have evidence? Don’t ignore if they do or if the similar concerns are being raised. There is no smoke without fire after all.
If somewhere is identifying as a conservation centre or is working on conservation they should have an ultimate goal of protecting a species, meaning their goal should be returning animals to the wild. If they don’t this, it’s not a conservation centre.
If they actively encourage engagement of visitors and animals, for example letting everyone hold a monkey, or ‘teasing’ the animals for food.
If they are very pushy with photo taking (as I experienced here). It’s one thing to capture a natural moment of an animal interaction, but it’s another for an animal or visitor being made to pose relentlessly.
Let me know in the comments your thoughts, or have you ever visited Tiger Kingdom? Or Tiger Temple?
I’d love to hear your experiences or opinions.