On our very last day of the trip our guide leaned back over the seat and asked me for the second time if I wanted to make a stop at Tiger Kingdom. I looked through the floorboard and off into space wrestling with this question one more time. Coming to Thailand I made it clear to my husband I didn't want to support any of the tiger "attractions" while we were there. So he had not put any of the numerous day trips to tiger kingdoms or tiger temples on our schedule.
I knew in my heart going to Tiger Kingdom was wrong. I had spent two weeks asking guides and locals about the conditions and their opinions of tiger tourism spots in Thailand. The three days we were in Chang Mai I had asked our guide several times about the tigers at the Tiger Kingdom, which he assured me was meant for conservation. I also asked him about Thailand's remaining wild tigers, as well as delicately asked about the Thai tiger farms I had herd whispers of and gauged peoples' thoughts on tiger farms in China.
Through these discussions I let myself believe in the peoples' sincerity that they loved the tiger, and wanted to help converse the last remaining wild tigers in Thailand. Looking up from the floorboard I sheepishly said, “Ok, let’s go.” In my ignorance I chose to dismiss what I knew in my soul was wrong.
As I walked into the enclosure with a handful of 4 month old tigers the tears started to fall. I couldn't get myself together enough to even sit down and take the photos until my time had officially run out; the trainers let me stay after other tourists had gone for the pictures I had paid for. One of the “trainers” asked me what was wrong, and all I could get out was “I love them” but what I wanted to say was...
“my heart is breaking for these tigers being exploited… by me.”
I asked over and over "where do the tigers go once they're two and can't be with tourists?" No one would tell me; the tears continued to fall. Finally, a "trainer" budged and said they go to a reserve. Of course I knew that was a lie.
Just about a month ago I was finally able to find a news report on what happens to the tigers once their purpose has been served (a lifespan of no more than 2-3 years).
“"When a tiger gets to around 2 to 3 years old they are taken and put in a
separate cage, because they can’t be around other tigers.
They would start fighting and want to protect their area," explains Pim.
When a tiger matures in the Tiger Kingdom therefore,
his or her life is either resigned to being part of a
breeding program or kept in complete isolation
in a cage for 24 hours a day for the rest of their life.
"What else can we do though?" asks Pim, "We can’t release them into the wild. The truth is there is no income and no provisions
to take care of them otherwise, so we need to do this.""
Don't Pay to Play!
It breaks down to the fact that
1. people pay to take photos with baby tigers
2. after 12 weeks they cannot generate money for their owners
3. so they are sold or become breading machines to supply the need for more baby tigers
Either way, the majority spend the rest of their lives in deplorable conditions. In the United States they call this horrific cycle the “Pay to Play” scheme that continues to fuel the US’s problem with backyard tigers living in small and cruel environments. The same thing is clearing happening in Thailand, but at a much smaller scale than in the United States where more than 20,000 big cats are registered (imagine how many are not on the books).
This experience showed me how easy it is to get pulled into something you know deep down is wrong. I have to deal with the sorrow in my heart and regret on a continual basis for being part of a system that so clearly exploits tigers and ends with beautiful animals created to roam 100s of square miles, to instead spend their days in concrete boxes barely big enough to turn around in.
We need to listen to our hearts. When you know deep down something is wrong, listen. Walk away. Don’t be part of the problem because it's easy to look past the truth. Every action has an opposite and equal reaction; your five minutes with a baby tiger means 25 years in prison for that cat.
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