Doing my best Vanna White ;)
I was beside myself with excitement! If you know me at all, then you know I love AUBURN, and I think Tigers are the most beautiful animals. Well today I got a chance to not just look at them up close, but to pet them, cuddle with them, and lay on them!
We had looked into a similar experience at a Tiger Zoo near Pattaya, but after reading horrible reviews about the treatment of the animals (they were drugged, beaten, declawed and had their teeth pulled!) we could not bring ourselves to support it. After a little research we found the Tiger Kingdom in Chiang Mai and knew we wanted to give it a try!
The reviews for this place were wonderful and I have to say after experiencing it I was not disappointed! The tigers seem extremely well cared for at this facility. Their enclosures are clean and big enough for them to run around in. They have pools to swim in and sprinklers to play in. There are also tree trunks for the small and medium size tigers to climb on. There's lots of green grass, bushes and trees that make it feel like a natural habitat (not just cages and a cement floor!). They have healthy coats and look very well fed.
These tigers are DEFINITELY NOT DRUGGED. One of the big tigers was jumping in the pool and chasing a toy (held by handler) right before we got in the cage with her! (which you'll see on the video below). The reason most of them are asleep in our pictures is because it was blazing hot outside (we went in the middle of the day) and they are nocturnal animals. Just like your housecat, they typically sleep all day! They were responsive though - when we rubbed their bellies they would immediately wake up and look at us to check us out, and then fall back asleep content to be petted. The trainers would have woken them up if we asked them to, but we didn't want to bother the tigers (I wouldn't want to be woken up 100 times a day for photos if I were them ;)
When it comes to the trainers I never saw even one of them hit a tiger. The tigers are not chained and the trainers do not have any sort of whip or weapon to hit them with. They all hold a small stick (maybe a foot long - the size of a little stick you'd pick up out of your yard) just to communicate with the tigers. They would tap the tiger very gently on the nose, paw, leg, etc just to let them know they (or I) was about to lay on them, touch them, etc.
These tigers have all been at the Tiger Kingdom their whole lives, and have been socialized with people. They are taught at a young age not to bite or lick anyone but each other (they encourage play "fighting" with other tigers but human's thin skin can not take their kind of "playing"!) They seemed very comfortable to have people in their cages and wanted us to pet them! They were especially comfortable with the handlers - they could touch their faces, hold their paws, play with them, etc (visitors are told not to touch their heads - better safe than sorry, haha ;)
Twice I had tigers see me and come up to the fence wanting me to pet them! Rusty captured one time on film.... here he was taking a photo of me with the tiger by the fence, when he spotted the other one looking at me from a few feet away. In this picture it looks like the tiger is "stalking" me and about to pounce! I was looking at Rusty and suddenly his eyes got really big and he started saying, "Baby, baby watch out!" I guess he thought the tiger might attack (and even though there's a fence between us, with me that close I'm pretty sure his claws could've reached me!)
I turned around just in time to look this huge tiger in the eyes as he headed right for me! For a split second I was scared, but then he rubbed up against the fence and PURRED! He wanted me to pet him! haha! It was so funny to see how much these animals are like big housecats!
If you are ever in this area I would definitely recommend taking a trip to the Tiger Kingdom! My only advice would be to consider going in with the "small" or "medium" cats instead of the smallest (2-4 months) ones. They were adorable but (like babies) they were very sleepy! The small tigers (a few months older) were still super cute but they were much more playful! (you'll see them through the fence at the end of the video :) The medium cats were much more active too - I guess when you think of it by age the "little kid & teenager" tigers are more playful and active than the "babies & adult" tigers. Makes sense, right? You can choose to see all 4 ages, but in my opinion 2 was the best value. We paid about $25 per person to play with 2 sets of tigers. We had about 10 - 15 minutes in the cage with each age group, and they rotated us around so each person got time with each tiger in the enclosure. I didn't feel rushed at all, and the handlers were happy to take pictures for us when we both wanted to get in the shot!
Here are some of my favorite photos from the day!
Petting a 3 month old tiger cub....
Loving on the littlest tiger (he was 2 months old!)
Spooning with a tiger cub (below) - the handler put his paws on my head like "headphones" haha! I was trying not to think about the time I got clawed by a lion about this size... their claws are huge and I definitely didn't want a swipe to the face!
Isn't he SO CUTE?
Then it was on to the BIG TIGERS!!!
This Tiger's name was Sophia. You'll see her in the video below (she was chasing her toy and jumping in the pool just a few minutes before we came into the cage!)
No big deal... just taking a nap on a tiger with paws the size of my head....
His name was "Lucky Day"! I told the handlers he was an "AUBURN TIGER" ;)
Doesn't this picture (below) look like a great Christmas card photo? ;)
And here's the biggest tiger! The trainers told us her name is J-LO "because she has a big bum!" haha!
Rusty wasn't too sure about J-LO, considering she was wide awake about 2 minutes before this picture, but he finally got a shot with her :)
I, on the other hand, was FEARLESS! Looking back at the pictures and video I can't believe how comfortable I was with these enormous animals. J-LO was only 16 months old and yet she easily weighed 300 lbs or more. And let's not even talk about how huge her claws and teeth were! It's really terrifying to think she could've bitten my head off in a second! Especially considering how hungry she looks right here with her tongue out, haha!
I guess my excitement and wonder just took over! Tigers are truly majestic creatures, and I feel so blessed so have had this opportunity up close with them!
What an AU-some experience!
It's GREAT to BE an AUBURN TIGER!!!