Sunday, March 31, 2013

Just Some Big Cats

I'll be honest, hubs is just a little bit of an adrenaline junky. Anything that is even a little bit dangerous, he is all for. On our honeymoon, there was a day that he went snorkeling while I stayed on the beach. He came running onto the beach yelling 'There's a shark in the coral! You've got to come check it out!' before running right back into the water. I remember thinking 'that is definitely not the way to get me in the water.' (I ended up going and seeing the harmless black tip reef sharks and it was one of the coolest experiences I've ever had, but that's beside the point) The point is, when we found out that there was a place in Chiang Mai where we could get up close and personal with baby and full grown tigers, we couldn't resist. 
When you arrive at Tiger Kingdom, you get to pick the age group you want to see. They have babies (2-3 months), small (4-8 months), medium (9-12 months) and large tigers (13-30 months). TIP: Go early! Tigers are most active when it first opens, the temperature hasn't skyrocketed yet, and they haven't been handled by a swarm of tourists. Also, when all of the tour groups come, the wait can take over an hour. We showed up just before nine and only waited a few minutes to get into each cage. 
He was just two months old and kept trying to climb into my lap and up my shoulder to be cuddled
The next age group we saw were the 4-6 month olds and they were also definitely the most active of them all. The ones that weren't napping were busy running around jumping and playing with each other. 
With each age group you are accompanied by a trainer that leads you from area to area and watches out for any tigers that want to 'play' with you. This came in handy when hubs made fast friends with a young 5 month old tiger by the name of Michael. He would follow hubs around the cage and try to 'play' with him. Aka, sneak up behind him and try to swat or bite his leg. Even after the trainer would lead us to the other side of the cage, it wouldn't be long until Michael was back. He managed to swat at him once but because he was wearing jeans, it only left a red mark, much to hubs disappointment (he's the weird type that wants a scar from a tough animal).
Hubs and his buddy Michael
I have to admit that when we went into the last cage and rounded the corner to see this:
I was a bit nervous. I've seen tigers through a cage and a long distance away before but when we saw it up close and personal, it was a little intimidating.  Good thing these kitties were pretty tired by the time we got there and slept majority of the time. 

The topic of drugging and punishment often comes up when talking about these animals. Before we went, I was extremely skeptical. I had heard stories of other tiger parks that taser their animals or give them drugs during open hours so the tigers will remain docile. My concerns disappeared when we arrived and they had numerous pieces of literature about what they believe and how they treat the animals. Not only that, but when we walked in, we could see into the full grown tigers cage as they ran after each other, tackling, playing and jumping in the water. The trainer was walking around in the cage working and the tigers took no notice to him. 

They explain that these tigers are born into captivity since the park is used for breeding and preservation of the endangered Indo-Chinese species of tiger. They are used to being around humans from a young age and therefore people coming and petting, hugging or patting them does not phase them. Another factor is the fact that tigers are mainly active during night time and less active during the mid-day heat. This is the reason that the older tigers are asleep in the majority of our photos. 

However, precautions must still be taken. For example, when the trainer is approaching a tiger, he takes a stick and bangs it against the ground to warn the tiger that he is approaching so as not to startle him. Also, we must approach the tiger from behind, if approached head on, they will think we want to play with them. Lastly, when we do pet or touch them, we must do so firmly. If we touch too lightly, they may think it's just a fly and react accordingly. 
My favorite part of Thailand, and specifically Chiang Mai, is the fact that you can get up close and personal with so many different animals. The city keeps you going with the endless possibilities of activities that it has to offer. Don't worry, there's lots of Redbull to help keep you awake so you don't miss a thing (and at just 35 cents a bottle, how can you resist?!)

Linking up with MollyMegLeannBrookeLoganCarissa, Rachel