So, first we went to see the baby tigers (2-4 months) and they were so cute and furry and and soft and sweet and less dangerous than they seem, but, you know you can't really play with them so it wasn't as fun as I wanted it to be but, hey, they bite! They would let you rub there tummies and lie with them but they don't let the tigers get up.
The medium tigers (6-months to one-year) could get and walk around and play-fight in water and soak you by splashing. The people who worked there had bamboo with toys tied and the end and have them jump and walk around for pictures. So there are the big tigers, which I couldn't go see because I'm 12, so only my dad went to lie down on them for yet more pictures. Then, he came back and said "Tonight's blog should be called Life of WY! Your father is a genius, just like all those fortune cookies said."
What a day it was in the Tiger Kingdom. This weird American family showed up, and the father would not stop taking pictures! When they came in, the two female humans starting playing, or as humans call it, physically fighting (but they have no idea what it really looks like).
Their first stop was the baby tigers. It was there nap time, so all of them were sleeping. Personally, I did not like being in the baby cage. I don't know if it's just me, but it's a little hard to sleep when giant humans are lying there heads on you all the time. But you have to agree, we are pretty adorable. I overheard that one human thought the drugged us! They're rough here, but no THAT rough.
After that, the human family headed over to our cage. They thought that my friend who had just gotten out of the pool lying on a log was amazing. But when I started playing in the pool, then the cameras really started clickin'. Then "snap, splash, snap, splash." was all I could hear as one of my friends came in the pool with me. But after awhile they got bored so the father went to see the big tigers. I saw one trying to catch the feather on the stick, and I felt so mad when I looked at the human controlling it. They never let us catch it! The father seemed to be having fun though. When they were done they all got ice cream that looked amazing. These are the moments I wish I was a human.
"I don't mean to defend zoos. Close them all down if you want (and let us hope that what wildlife remains can survive in what is left of the natural world). I know zoos are no longer in people's good graces. Religion faces the same problem. Certain illusions about freedom plague them both."
- Life of Pi Part 1, Chapter 4. Pi says this just after debunking what he believes is the myth that animals are not happy in zoos. He has just explained that the environment of a zoo, if properly maintained, creates a habitat so comfortable for animals that it is preferable to the violent uncertainty of life in the wild.
The Tiger Kingdom is a very popular half-day outing in Chaing Mai, and we were very excited once we arrived and saw the people before us actually laying right on top of full-grown tigers and rubbing their bellies. We started in the baby tigers' cage and they were all sleeping. All, as in each and every single one of them. Suzanne started to wonder if they were drugged? When I asked, I was told that they mostly eat and sleep at this stage of life and slept up to 16-hours a day - and are mostly awake at night when it is cooler. This seemed to match what we have seen on countless Animal Planet shows, so it made some sense. But Suzanne was still suspicious and kind of bummed about the whole caged-animal exhibit thing by now. Which is when the quote about zoos from Life of Pi came into my head. It's a touchy, and rightfully, high-profile question these days, but I'm not sure how I personally feel, especially in such a well maintained place of business.
Next, into the "teenage" tiger cage we went where most were awake and playing, including two who "play fought" just like ordinary house-cats, but in a shallow pool of water as we stood frozen just 2-3 feet away. We were absolutely mesmerized and just stood and watched them for a good 5-6 minutes. It was a very unique feeling actually being inside the zoo cage, exciting and felt just a tad dangerous if they ran right by, and next to you.
As our kids were not old enough to go into the full-sized tiger cage (you had to be 15), and Suzanne was not feeling supportive of this whole idea anymore, I charged alone into the "lions den" as it were. In the adult cages, one or two were coaxed into playing by chasing some string on a 10-foot stick (I swear just like our cats at home), while the remaining 4-5 "fat cats" just slumbered waiting for the next tourist to lay on them and rub their tummies. The guides just kept saying to approach the tigers from the rear and don't wave anything by their faces and you'd be perfectly safe!?!
I agree with Izzy that since you are that close to them and they do act just like house cats in almost every other way, you really want to reach up and rub their faces and actually "play" with them, but you just know you can't - and you can't make sudden moves. But, actually just laying on, and feeling, a 500-lb tiger's rib cage go up and down as they breath, was magical. And yes, I put my ear close down and tried to hear a purr.....but nothing.
As far as the conflicted conscience about whether it was a humane set-up for the tigers, I guess I would come down 51%-49% in favor and say yes it was, as they are well cared for, fed, healthy and safe. They are not beaten, trained, or whipped, but they are on display and a poke on the butt with a small bamboo stick will steer them toward or away from people, but it looked harmless to me. We wandered around some closed-off areas by accident, and the behind-the-scenes equipment looked new and clean and in good operating condition, so nothing felt shoddy or inappropriate. The bottom-line for me was that we humans got to interact with nature in a way that is very emotional and unique, and the tigers, all whom were raised with humans from birth, seemed to enjoy the interaction just as much as our cats at home love a good tummy rub. But hey, maybe I'm arguing the other point, that teaching them to interface safely with human's is unnatural and wrong, etc.
I have to say, though, I guiltily enjoyed it immensely and I know most cat lovers would too.