Tiger Kingdom in Chiang Mai
Tiger Kingdom is located in Mae Rim, about 25 minutes by Tuk Tuk from Chiang Mai in Thailand. It first opened its doors to the public in May 2008. In 2011 it is probably one of the most visited of 'animal attractions' in the Chiang Mai area. The reason for this is that it is marketed extremely well. There are posters for Tiger Kingdom all over the city and just about every Tuk Tuk has a 'Tiger Kingdom' sticker and poster on it. Advertising for the Chiang Mai Zoo or Chiang Mai Night Safari are badly placed or almost non-existent. You would be hard pressed to find an advertising leaflet to either of these collections.
In some of their advertising Tiger Kingdom claims to be the 'The only one place in the world'. I am not too sure what is meant by the statement.
The Tiger Kingdom is a subsidiary of the Ubon Tiger Zoo in located in Ubon Ratchathani in North East Thailand. The Ubon Zoo and Tiger Kingdom are owned by Choowit Pitakpornpanlop, a Thai MP. The Ubon Zoos main claim to fame is that it is the only one I am aware of to breed an albino leopard.
Tiger Kingdom now have another operation based in Phuket.
Tiger Kingdom is located in Mae Rim on the outskirts of Chiang Mai in Thailand. It a new collection, well advertised and rapidly becoming popular. Every hotel and guest house in Chiang Mai will give you a deal to get there. These will usually include a special deal allowing you to visit other places as well (your driver earns commission). I did not want to go to the 'Monkey School' so did my own deal with a Tuk Tuk driver. The return journey of twenty minutes each way plus waiting time for three hundred baht.
Paths Between Enclosures
No Flash Please
I had heard that a Tiger Kingdom visit was actually free unless you actually wanted to go in with the tigers. This proved to be incorrect. There were a scale of prices depending on the size of tigers you wished to 'pet'. I did not want to pet any of them but I did want to go inside. Minimum price then was 420 baht ranging up to 1,380 and something.
Regardless I had to sign a waiver form (Insurance Premium) before entering. Once you have purchased your ticket you move into a waiting area where you will find Chiang Mai's only Fish Spa (so the sign says*). After a short wait your group are taken into the tiger area. Once through you are then directed towards whatever tigers you have paid to pet.
A rest from patting
The sign says they are not a zoo. Of course they are. It is wild animals in captivity. So it doesn't mater if you call it a sanctuary, a conservation centre or Tiger Kingdom it is still a zoo.
The staff throughout Tiger Kingdom were extremely polite, helpful, very neatly dressed. Most seemed to speak some English and a fair few of them had walkie talkies. I noted a few well placed security cameras as well.
Do Not Put Anything Into Cage
Tiger Kingdom is not a large place, perhaps 4-5 acres in all. There appears to be room for expansion. What is open and on view to the public is beautiful. It is well maintained and both tastefully and strongly constructed. The ambience is enhanced by the trees, butterflies, colorful dragonflies. All the animal accommodation was spotlessly clean. I never saw a bit of faeces anywhere. There was of smell urine and only the faintest scent of 'Tiger' when one got close. Not a bone or feather anywhere either.
Path Between Enclosures
Each enclosure was surrounded by a stout chain link fence. Some of these were topped off by a strand of electric fence wire. Some had a mesh top and others had nothing at all. The enclosures differed in size and shape and held varying numbers of animals. Each enclosure had a pool for swimming. These were either full or being refilled. The water was spotlessly clean. There were scratching logs of large size and some of the living trees were protected by electric fence wire. The inner edge of each enclosure had a concrete lip to prevent damage by pacing. The whole design of denning and enclosure was climate and species perfect if perhaps just a touch too small. I have no knowledge of how long animals are confined in the dens.. There are no barriers however but for this collection it is deliberate rather than an omission.
Big, Small, New Born
Apart from Tigers there were some Macaws and a single Lioness (I hope that a Tigon is not in the planning). The Macaws had metal nesting barrels which I always think is a mistake whether in a cold or a hot climate.
There are 32 Tigers in Tiger Kingdom from very young cubs up to mature adults. So what is the place all about? It is all about touching Tigers and allowing people to have their photographs taken with them. This is a big moneyspinner which is supplemented by Gift Shop and Restaurant sales. That is all it is really. It is stated that the tigers are not sedated. I believe that. They say that none of their tigers is declawed. Impossible to check but I did see one using a scratching log. Without exception all the animals I was able to get a good look at were in beautiful condition. All were well fed. Apparently the Tigers are fed twice daily on chicken.
One of the Swimming Pools
What about conservation? Well what about it? There was no evidence of it here. Education? No, not a hint of it. No-one who visits here is going to come away knowing anything about the threats tigers face in the wild. No-one will be asked to donate to a conservation programme. No-one will learn anything at all about Tigers apart from their given names. They won't learn the scientific name because it did not appear anywhere either in signs or literature. Neither will they learn what this hot potch of conservationaly useless 'Heinz 57 variety' tigers is made up of (though admitted to on the website). I don't suppose any of the many visitors will even give a thought to where these animals are going to end up. Like the infamous Sri Racha Tiger Zoo, this place needs a constant flow of young pattable animals. The connection with Ubon Zoo does not improve the situation at all. With Tiger Kingom and Ubon Zoo both breeding Tigers just where are they going? All the other Tiger keeping Zoos in Thailand are breeding tigers too. This is worrying and needs serious investigation. I fear that this is just another very pretty Tiger Farm.They can't keep them all. It would be irresponsible to pass them on to a second rate collection. They are valueless animals.
Anybody Selling Tiger Parts?
There is a lot of signage here and some of it is quite interesting to me but it has nothing at all to do with Tiger education. As well done as this place is it has absolutely nothing at all to do with conservation, education or research. There is not even 'edutainment' it is pure entertainment. There is no evidence of enrichment either although I understand that they get coconuts to play with.
I suppose some may argue that visitors are enrichment but this, like swimming pools, pole or carcass feeding cease to be enrichment when regular enough to become cage furniture or routine. No, Tiger Kingdom is yet another of those purely commercially exploitative collection who does not really care about Tigers at all.
Small Tiger Data
Rubbish and Wrongness from the Tiger Kingdom Website and English Signage
The following is from the Website and an English language education board in Tiger Kingdom. These were produced by English volunteers. Whereas I appreciate they care about the tigers and are capable of doing a bit of internet research it is fairly obvious that they do not understand anything about Tiger Conservation. Playing with tigers for a few hours does not make anyone an expert.
"Here at Tiger Kingdom we have a mixture of tigers from all over the world. Most are Indo-China tigers but we also have tigers bred from Bengal and Sumatran parents."
"Zoos and parks such as Tiger Kingdom are an essential part of the conservation of the tiger. Here we ensure the continuation of the species as well as providing a broad genetic base for future generations of tiger. Tiger Kingdom wants you to leave here with a greater understanding of the tiger and with its place as one of the worlds ‘big cats’."
"What happens to the adult tigers when they leave Tiger Kingdom?
Tiger Kingdom is a partner of Ubon Zoo and the animals that are bred here go there or to other zoos."
This from another volunteer: I have seen how Tiger Kingdom has had to put up with a lot of negativity from people in the past. As an independent, whom has had the great privileged of spending a good few full days here I have decided it is about time someone set the record straight.
and here is some of what she says:
Why do you use sticks with the tigers?
Sticks are held by trainers at all times for safety. From a very early age the cubs are taught that biting and clawing are not permitted. This has to be instilled in them every day for the rest of their lives, it is the only way it can make it possible for a human to be in the same enclosure as a man eating animal.
The use of electric shock, whips, chains, declawing, drugging and food deprivation/reward are also methods that could be used on a tiger but Tiger Kingdom believes the method of "nose tapping" is the only method that reduces the harm to the tigers, and remains a successful way of preventing human and tiger injury.
If a tiger injures a human it usually calls for the animal to be put down. An uncontrollable tiger is just as much a danger to itself as it is to the customer. A human may survive a tiger bite but the tiger most certainly wouldn't be allowed to live after such an incident! Nobody wants to put a tiger down just because a customer wanted it to be free to play with them!
The sticks are not sharp and do not cause cuts. As the tigers get older they learn that the stick is a warning. It is used when face to face eye contact or threatening behaviour is shown by the tiger, but as they mostly sleep during the busiest parts of the day a trainer will usually bang it on the fence or something nearby to let the tiger know they are approaching and that aggressive behaviour will be met with a hard knock to the nose. This technique is also used in training aggressive dogs and other biting
animals except that for these animal using a finger or hand is the preferred method.
Why do the trainers/photographers wake the tigers up from their sleep to have pictures taken?
Because without customers the tigers would starve.
What the customer wants they usually get! Its the same story in every business in every country! If all the customers wanted to do was to stand/sit next to a tiger while it was sleeping peacefully then it would make for a less tired tiger and probably a happier keeper too, but for the most part customers will not settle for just a touch. Provided it is safe to do so the trainers will try to position the tiger so that the face can be seen and the customer can sit comfortably in shot.
Customers are important to the tigers lives. No government funding is provided and hey rely on the income from the encounters to feed and pay for vets bills ect. Customers want to show their friends and family's wonderful pictures of them enjoying the intimacy of a one on one with a powerful and majestic animal. It is determined by the majority that dictates the need for the tigers to be woken so many time when they are trying to sleep. If you are happy to be passive and do not want these types of photos then please say so. It would make life a lot easier for tiger and keeper.
* I noted no less than nine other Fish Spa's in Chiang Mai without even looking for them. These included the first ever 'free, no obligation to buy' spa.
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