Okay, just kidding. The Tiger Kingdom in Chiang Mai is perfectly safe; their tigers haven’t eaten anyone in at least a few months.
There are four sizes you can pay to play with: smallest (3 months and 6 months), small (under one year), medium (under 18 months), and biggest (under 2 years).
Once the tigers reach two years of age they’re apparently not considered safe to interact with tourists, so at that point they’re passed along to zoos as part of a breeding program.
Random Things We Learned at Tiger Kingdom
Baby tigers like to play with coconuts.
Baby tigers also like to stalk things. Pant legs, bugs, their tails, each other… the world is their prey!
Tigers are mostly nocturnal and sleep up to 18 hours a day. This means they do a lot of napping and lounging around while people touch them, which is probably a good thing with the bigger ones. I wouldn’t want to encounter one of those in a rambunctious mood…
When you’re interacting with the tigers (particularly the larger ones) you’re supposed to stay behind them, avoiding their head and front paws. Unless you’re a trainer with a palm frond, of course, in which case the rules apparently don’t apply.
Tiger tails, on the other hand, are fair game. They’re also remarkably strong! Kali came close to getting beheaded by one… and I grew a mustache.
Use firm touch with the tigers. In demonstrating just how firm we should be, the trainer put most of his weight into laying on the tiger… and that crazy cat barely looked over its shoulder. Don’t be afraid to get handsy!
Tiger fur – even baby tiger fur – feels surprisingly coarse and wiry.
If you’re short (like under five feet short), you’re not allowed to enter the biggest cat enclosure. Yep, I was prevented from playing with the two year olds due to an elevated risk of being eaten.
Does the Tiger Kingdom treat its tigers humanely?
The tigers appear to be treated with as much respect as possible, given the circumstances. They aren’t drugged, beaten, or chained, and we saw a lot of trainers treating their tigers with obvious affection. Trainers were playful when working with the babies, and even some of the 2 y.o. tigers were getting enthusiastic full belly scratches from the humans who worked with them (did I mention the tourist rules don’t seem to apply to the staff?).
The tigers are acclimated to human interaction from a VERY young age, which is how people can lay on them without being introduced to the pointy end of their claws. On a daily basis, from the time that they’re just a few months old, the tigers have humans touching them and trainers correcting certain feisty behaviors by bopping them on the nose with a long stick.
Despite the generally positive environment, however, I think it’s worth pointing out that none of this changes the fact that they’re being bred and kept in cages simply for amusement and profit. While our personal feeling was that the tigers were better treated here than at the Chiang Mai Zoo, we did spend some time struggling with the ethics of supporting an organization dedicated to keeping tigers in captivity.