Just outside of Chaing Mai, Thailand is the Mae Rim area where an impressive array of tourist attractions and activities can be found. Everything from ziplining, to ATV-ing, to touring an elephant poop plant. Several of these attractions appeared corny and over-hyped, while others interesting and quality. Tiger Kingdom is one of the attractions, allowing visitors to interact with and take pictures in an intimate setting. We had read that it was a clean and beautiful establishment (you never know what you’re going to get in Thailand), so we hired a driver for the day to explore the region. After signing up to see the smallest, small and big tigers, we almost regretted our decision when the biggest started wrestling with another and let out an intimidating roar while tourists were in the pen with him. Are you sure this is safe?
There is much debate about interacting with large predator species in this setting, especially in a place like Thailand where not all animal parks are created equally. We definitely weren’t going to support a company that tranquilized their animals for tourist’s petty thrills. After looking into it a bit more, we felt confident that these tigers are being loved and cared for as best they can in captivity. Because they are handled and pet on a daily basis, they are relaxed and comfortable with humans near then. In fact, they told us that their smallest baby tigers can be the most dangerous because they, like puppies, are playful and still learning and can tend to get a bit rough. The big cats, much like house cats, actually sleep up to 18 hours a day and do their hunting at night. For this reason, some assume their drugged. After seeing these tigers play and interact with each other first hand, I can tell you that they are definitely not.
We started with the ‘small’ tigers which did not appear small at all. I’d call them a ‘healthy medium’ size if you asked me. These critters were also the most active of any group, since they were still juvenile (only 9 months) but larger in size… Maybe 150 lbs. After entering the pen, we quickly had a pack of tigers surrounding us – all fully alert and on the prowl. Woah. What did we sign up for??! After getting comfortable, we approached a snoozing tiger for our first up and close experience. We learned that the tigers prefer to be rubbed roughly, rather than pet softly like a cat… ‘If you pet too gently it will feel ticklish and they will be irritated’. We didn’t want to see what ‘irritated’ looked like. The next tigers were the ‘Big Cats’, which were surprisingly less intimidating because they were mostly all snoozing away. Thank you baby Jesus.
We saved the smallest tigers for last. Only 2-3 months old, it’s hard to believe these baby critters will be terrifyingly huge in 6 months time. Matt immediately got down and started rough-housing with one, craving that Grizz play time moment, but was asked to stop because their idea of ‘playing’ is with claws and sharp teeth. Although I can’t imagine them causing too much damage, it’s probably better safe than sorry. It didn’t stop us from laying on them, kissing their paws, and getting nose-to-nose snuggles. If only they could stay this small forever. Funny how playing with tigers will make you home-sick for your dog… It doesn’t take much these days. Only a bit over a month until we’re reunited with our own baby critter. Can’t wait!
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