Posted by: adventuressetravels | December 20, 2011

Tiger Tiger Burning Bright

Tiger tiger burning bright, in the forest of the night. What immortal hand or eye could frame thy fearful symmetry?

Tiger. The word calls to mind sleek striped hunters hiding in the lush green jungle undergrowth, the forest full of them. After all, these are the animals from our childhood tales that countless authors have lifted up as their heroes or featured as the villain. These majestic black and orange cats spark the imagination and set the heart to racing.

Sadly today the Indochinese tiger’s once vast kingdom is crumbling. Poachers

have mercilessly hunted these regal animals to the brink of extinction for their pelts and for use in Chinese medicine. To make things worse, illegal hunting and poaching has all but wiped out the tigers’ prey and what few survive in the wild do not have the food they need to survive. These facts have brought the Indochinese tiger to the brink of extinction and somewhere between 100-300 Indochinese tigers left in the wild.

However all is not lost. Nearly 20 years ago the Ubon Zoo started a breeding program for the Indochinese tigers. The most famous location by far is Tiger Kingdom, which is a part of the breeding and educational program that also raises money to help the tigers. And how does this program raise its money?

For the experience of a

lifetime, visitors can spend time in the cages and pet the tigers. It is about $14 USD for 15 minutes in the large tigers cage, or $21 USD for 15 minutes with the large and 15 minutes with the 5-month-old tigers. Unfortunately the Thai government doesn’t fund the tiger program so visitors fees and donations fully fund the program, but what a wonderful way to raise awareness and help the animals.

Since the first time I heard someone tell me about getting to pet tigers on a trip to Thailand, over a decade ago, I knew that when I went to Thailand that was something I wanted to do. There are several places that tourists can pet tigers, a monastery near Bangkok and Tiger Kingdom 15 kilometers north of Chiang Mai.

I had heard mixed reviews. Some people claimed that the tigers were drugged so that they were calm and others swore up and down that they were not. I needed to go see for myself.

As sleepy as the large cats are I might have believed they were drugged myself if I hadn’t had to wait for some of the smaller 5-month old cats to finish cavorting before petting their wet fur and watched one of the older cats take great leaps while one of the guides was playing with it I don’t think that the Tiger Kingdom’s stars are drugged.

They are just nocturnal creatures who catch up on their sleep during the day. Can you blame them? If I were sporting a thick fur coat in the middle of Thailand’s sauna-like tropical heat I’d wait til nighttime to be active too.

For different prices visitors can choose what age group of tigers they want to spend time with. I spent fifteen minutes with the 5-month-old small playful tigers. These teenage cats were terribly cute batting at one another and jumping in and out of the water. However, petting a soggy tiger wasn’t quite as much fun as it might have been. I liked the 15 glorious minutes I spent with the 18 month old larger tigers stretched out relaxing in the sun much more. I even got to do a little animal massage on one of the tiger’s tummy. One thing that surprised me were the white spots on the back of the Indochinese tigers’ ears. I wouldn’t think that a tiger needed fake eyes on the backs of his ears but that is what the guide told me that they were.

After your personal tiger time, you can stroll around the tiger kingdom complex for as long as you would like. You can go to see young cubs, barely bigger than a housecat, the older tigers, or even the lonely-looking lion that they take care of.

There are rules about how to pet the tigers. Visitors aren’t allowed to touch the cats’ heads or walk around their front. Unfortunately there was one incident in 2009 where a New Zealand woman petted a tiger’s head, her sleeve fell into its eyes and it bit her. The woman was rushed to the hospital and got the stitches she needed but the staff firmly enforces rules about how to touch the tigers.

As amazing as the experience is, and what tiger kingdom is doing to help the Indochina tigers I do have mixed feelings. It is very sad that the animals cannot be released into the wild, but with poachers and the food shortage this is impossible. The tiger enclosures are small and though they have pools and exercise areas but do not have the vegetation or cover for the animals natural environment. However, tigers over twenty months are retired and sent to zoos around the world where they live in larger, more comfortable enclosures.

Altogether Tiger Kingdom is a wonderful experience and I highly recommend going to Tiger Kingdom and helping to support the Ubon Zoo and Tiger Kingdom keep these amazing creatures in the world.

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