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Tiger Kingdom: Familiar Stripes and New Challenges 

Three years ago, I was accepted as a volunteer at Tiger Kingdom in Chiang Mai. I’d heard a lot of rumours about drugged animals and abuse. I went there to find out the truth for myself. I was surprised to find out how misinformed people were about tigers and the park. After two months as a volunteer, I put together a blogpost here to try and correct all the misconceptions on the internet.

Still, I kept getting comments that sounded absolutely insane to me. (One lady once asked me if we painted the back of the tigers’ ears white. No! The truth is that the back of the tigers’ ears are white because they look like eyes when viewed from behind. This means that predators are less likely to attack the tiger when they think the tiger is watching.)

After talking to my friends who work at Tiger Kingdom, I decided that it was time to pay them another visit. I thought it would be a great chance to revisit old friends, talk about the future and put together a video for you.

 

Familiar faces and stripes

My first day back at Tiger Kingdom and i was attacked by hugs and a lot of “You forgot Thai?? Why you don’t speak Thai?” It was great seeing familiar faces and stripes that I hadn’t seen for three years. A lot of the same staff was still around, making the same jokes but quite a few new faces had joined the park.

Mong Kon (Micheal) and Eff (Frankie) were still at the park, looking just the same, only bigger. They’re easy to remember. Eff has a spot on his nose and Mong Kon always had a beautiful face and loved the pool. He had a signature posé for his sunbathing in the pool. When I first met them, they were medium sized and now they’re parading around as full grown tigers. They are the giants of Tiger Kingdom now.

The big version of Mong Kon relaxing in the pool

 

The Wildlife Department have all the captive tigers’ micro chip numbers. They’re very strict with checking on each individual tiger to make sure they’re all accounted for. During one of their routine visits to Tiger Kingdom I had a chance to join a team going to the New Park, which is not open to the public yet.

I met little Vicky and Penguin, except they’re not so little anymore. The part I had been looking forward to the most was meeting my Sailom. He was still as friendly as ever, with a giant head. He’d gotten a little taller, and a little slimmer since I last saw him. The new diet the nutritionist put him on has done good for him.

Old Dave, the lion was still around as well. I met him too, but he wasn’t as happy to see me… He always only liked Kong, the trainer. And he embarrassed himself by acting like a lovesick puppy when Kong came around. Love makes you do crazy things, wether you have paws or disposable thumbs.

 

The face Dave makes when Kong is petting him
The face Dave makes when Kong is not around

 

News and changes

Quite a few changes have taken place at Tiger Kingdom during the last three years. There’s now less breeding taking place as Tiger Kingdom is slowly making changes. In fact, when I was visiting there were no tiger cubs at the park. However, there are now a few playful lion cubs at Tiger Kingdom in Chiang Mai. The lions are born in a zoo in Thailand and Tiger Kingdom has an agreement to keep them at the park for the upcoming year before they are returned to the zoo.

 

In the past, adult tigers were retired at the age of three at Tiger Kingdom. This was due to safety concerns. At the age of three the tigers are fully grown and can sometimes be more difficult to deal with. But, the current tigers Mong Kon and Eff are very friendly at the age of four and they will continue working in the park as long as they remain so. When they retire in the future, they will continue to stay with Tiger Kingdom, at the current park or the New Park but visitors will not be able to pet them.

 

Me catching up with a much bigger version of Eff than I remembered

 

There are some exciting plans brewing, unfortunately I don’t have the authority to reveal everything. BUT there are plans to build an education centre at Tiger Kingdom Chiang Mai. This will allow visitors to be able to learn more about tigers, both captive and wild. Until the education centre is finished, ask the staff if you have any questions. Be in charge of your own education, leave the tigers with new knowledge!

 

The Future of Tigers

In the last few years the numbers of wild tigers have gone up to around 3,890 from the estimated 3,200 in 2010, but there’s still a long way to go. Poaching and loss of habitat are still two major problems that threaten wild tigers. Some people believe that if they kill the tiger and keep their skin, they will possess part of their power. These old beliefs is the reason why tigers have such a high value on the black market. Others, kill tigers out of fear if they are seen too near a tribe or village.

It’s very complicated to re-introduce animals back into the wild. It’s not just a matter of letting them go. Most captive tigers do not know how to hunt or look after their cubs. They also don’t know to fear humans and hide from poachers, since they have previously associated them with food, care and play.

 

 

If we want to see a thriving tiger population in the wild in the future, we need to change our way of thinking. The government has some power, yes, but we as people have a say in how we want our government to use their power. I do believe that tigers belong in the wild, but we are the reason that they are not in the wild.

According to the World Wildlife Foundation 93% of tigers’ habitat has been destroyed. This is due to agriculture, timber and road development. The tigers that are left live in small groups which increases the risk of inbreeding and becoming the pray of a poacher.

 

Working towards a sustainable future

The education centre at Tiger Kingdom is a new project that is being planned at the moment. This is just one of many steps to educate people about tigers and their behaviour. A lot of vet-students spend time at Tiger Kingdom to learn about these animals. If a wild tiger is found wounded, personnel from Tiger Kingdom is often called to help treat the animal because of their expertise knowledge. Captive animals can teach us how to help and care for wild animals, if done correctly.

 

 

But we do all believe that wild animals should stay in the wild. I believe that more zoos and animal parks are starting to understand this as well and are moving towards a more sustainable future.

Tiger Kingdom is hoping to use the New Park as a gateway to a change for captive tigers. They’re hoping to work together with The Wildlife Department to help conserve and protect tigers, both wild and captive. This is a long process, although it has already been started, it will take a long time for a big change to happen. I am hopeful that the hard work that we have seen in the last few years will continue to show results for tigers in the wild.

Thank you for reading, if you are planning a visit to Tiger Kingdom you can find all the information on prices and how to get there here.

 

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