Thailand’s Big Game

To begin, I’ll state the obvious: Thailand has absolutely amazing wildlife. It’s lush jungles contain something like 10% of the world’s biodiversity (do not quote me on that). Tourists are understandably interested in experiencing those especially exotic animals, like tigers and elephants, that they would never be able to see back home. And it’s equally understandable that Thai people would want to profit off of the local environment. tigers playingBut some programs are more successful than others. I was fortunate enough to visit both tigers and elephants while in Chiang Mai, and they were markedly different experiences.

At Tiger Kingdom, I was repeatedly asked to lean down and cuddle a 400-pound tiger. I was reluctant. Sure, I was nervous around the enormous animal, (his paw alone was the size of a dinner plate), but it also felt strangely disrespectful. Tigers were, and still are, some of the most feared animals in the world. Now tourists are encouraged to treat the domesticated versions (all the tigers were born and bred in captivity) like overlarge house cats. Minders prowled the cages with thin sticks in their hands, and whenever the tigers became too frisky, they received short whacks on their hindquarters. These could not have actually hurt the animals, they were probably analogous to annoying buzzing insects. Still, it was a slightly unsettling experience. The fear was supposed to be gone.

tiger napping

Is that good or bad? There is obviously no need to be afraid of tigers anymore, as wild tiger attacks are extremely rare.

But I think something is lost by having people experience tigers this way. We were not encouraged to be in awe of their amazing natural abilities, nor were we taught about their lifestyles or their intelligence. We were told to take goofy pictures which we could then tag on social media (hashtag tiger kingdom!). I’m guilty of doing that too, I posted an Instagram of myself with a baby tiger.  I think these kinds of places rob the tigers of their essential being. I realize that it could be far worse for them in the wild-poaching and habitat destruction are huge issues for tigers, but I think there must be a better, more natural way. Just because we can be in a cage with an apex predator doesn’t we should.

tigers cuddling(A note: many places use sedatives on their large animals, but Tiger Kingdom does not).

I also had the wonderful opportunity to spend the day with a small herd of elephants.

feeding time

We were given bags full of bananas and we set off into the jungle with four female elephants. For their incredible size, the elephants were remarkably gentle. However, they made it very clear that they were only participating in the hike for the bags of bananas. elephant front

We also observed another herd made up of four adult females and one child. We watched them eat and bathe; it was a unique experience to see how elephants live.elephant huggingherdAlthough the elephant park isn’t perfect, they are saving elephants from far worse lives; working in logging camps in Burma, or performing on the streets of Chiang Mai or Bangkok. I really respected their mission and I highly recommend the experience (check it out!)

Chiang Mai is an incredible place, and I highly recommend visiting! Just be careful, and make sure to book all animal-related tours through a reputable company 🙂

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4 thoughts on “Thailand’s Big Game

  1. Hi Katie, What an experience for you. It seems like you are enjoying your travels on Thailand as I did years ago. When I was in Chaing Mai the taxis were Toyota pickups with two board down each side for seats and were loaded until no more people could board or hang off the back. Margaret and I experienced the same feeling you expressed about the tigers when we sawn with the dolphins in Mexico. Please let the poor beasts live in peace. I guess it is better than starving or being shot. However, it does tear at the heart. We are in Lima airport waiting for flight to Cartagena. . The trip on the Amazon River was amazing. So much to see and the river boat tour made the experience very memorable. We did get a chance to,swim with the wild dolphins in the river, or rather float in our life jackets the water was incredible warm more like a hot shower. The dolphins were nearby and did not come very close. Perhaps 50-60 feet. Still an incredible experience. We saw lots of birds, sloths, and other wildlife including the capybara, a hugh nocturnal rodent. Like Thailand hot and humid. I have been reading one of the books you recommended on Korea. A very interesting read.

    Keep the. Blogs coming. We are enjoying your experiences. With love. M&M

    Sent from my iPad

    Liked by 1 person

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