Many people have strong reservations visiting such a place as Tiger Kingdom in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The main one being the history of drugging tigers so that they are more placid and able to be pet by tourists. While this is sadly true in more sketchy areas in the country, none of the tigers at Tiger Kingdom are drugged. Whether or not that is 100% accurate is up for debate; however, our local guide assured us that Tiger Kingdom was a legit sanctuary, and from what I witnessed there I’d say he was correct.
One of the reasons the tigers might seem drugged is due to the fact that tigers are nocturnal, meaning they hunt and are most active at night. Lots of the tigers throughout the day are fast asleep. The cages are very well-kept, and the handlers were very friendly, seeming to genuinely care for the animals. I watched one handler hug and kiss his tiger on multiple occasions. Also, the tigers are not chained like they are at Tiger Temple, and they had areas to swim, play, and run and chase each other.
There is the “Life of Pi” debate: are animals able to have a connection to humans and display affection, emotion, or friendship? Or are they merely an animal, just with the sole instinct to survive? I like to believe that they are able to form trusting relationships with humans, especially if raised by humans and being around them day and night. Is being swarmed by hundreds of humans the ideal life for a tiger? No, it isn’t. Tigers are still able to live in captivity for protection without being a tourist attraction. But without the added layer of the tourists, there would be nothing funding the food, shelter, medications, and vigorous upkeep for these animals. The same goes for Thailand in general. So much of the country is funded by tourism, which is heavily relied upon. The recent protests in Bangkok have plummeted tourism in Thailand greatly, and it makes a big difference.
For the whole ride back in the tuk tuk, I thought of my true feelings of Tiger Kingdom. It’s a questionable co-existence between letting animals go extinct or keeping them alive funded as a human attraction. Yes, at the end of the day Tiger Kingdom is a tourist destination, but if they are genuinely breeding and protecting these magnificent creatures, then I am okay with supporting that.