Thursday, February 18, 2016

Thailand - Tigers

Animal related tourism is a controversial business. Everyone wants to sit on an Elephant and thus big fees change hands for an encounter with these seemingly gentle giants (although they have been known to be somewhat less than gentle in the wild). The money thing makes me somewhat suspicious... you could argue that as there is big money involved, they will treat their source of income right, but at the same time could also argue that the money involved is simply too big for some to worry about it. Selecting the good ones from the bad is near enough impossible. 

It's a tough call, what do you do? No matter what you choose, you could make the wrong decision. Not just for yourself but more so for the animals. If the fees you spend will be used for conservation then it's money well spend, if it's simply used to buy the owner a new car over the back of his animals then it isn't. And as we can't see where the money goes to, I guess we'll never know. All I can say is everything looked good and well kept, while the caretakers seemed to love their animals.

Of course a lot has been written about the subject and most of it isn't all that good. In the Elephant case that's putting it mildly. The problem is, we don't know how well informed the writers of those epistles on the net are. Which brings me to an observation of this piece of text: I'm not pretending in the slightest to know anything about it. All I'm writing here is what I think which is based on what I saw. Looking at the Elephants, we didn't go and did so for two reasons: it's expensive and we had seen Elephants up close (see previous posts). Expensive should be put in context though. I have no idea how much money is involved in keeping massive animals like that, so when I say expensive I mean related to the money we have. If you're on a 3 weeks big spending tour, returning to your house and big paying job, then it probably won't matter that much. To be able to do the trip we are doing, we have been out of a job for more than 3 years now, no holiday money and no job waiting for us to come back to. I'm not complaining but then an Elephant trip becomes a huge wad of cash.

Like I wrote, we found Elephants freely roaming the roads, which is not often the case with Tigers. As we love cats, we wanted to give that a go... The promise of being able to get up close with one of them was simply too big for us. The one we chose, Tiger Kingdom, promises to use the received funds for conservation. We had read on one particular website that it was a scam, yet when I read the article I wondered where that was based on. The headline reads Tiger Kingdom is a scam, yet the article stated there was no evidence of maltreatment at Tiger Kingdom at all... In the end we went for a look.

What we found was animals in enclosures, deprived from their freedom, which is wrong no question about it. But is it any different from tigers in a zoo? I feel it is. Tigers in a zoo are generally in smaller enclosures and bored out of their mind! They have nothing to do all day and show the typical frustrated cat behaviour of walking around the fence for hours. At Tiger Kingdom we didn't see any of that behaviour. Quite the opposite. Even the big cats were playful, running around, splashing in the water and chasing each other. Which brings me to the second suggestion: they are drugged to leave people alone... Personally I find that hard to believe, having seen the big cats running around while we were there, in their enclosure. They didn't look all that drugged to me! We have a part wild/part domestic cat at home (now running riot with my parents) and before you start, if we had not adopted her, then she would have been dead by now. She isn't drugged of course but nevertheless sleeps 16 hrs a day... to find big cats doing the same seems logical to me.

The bamboo stick used to get them in line, as stated on the same website, is indeed true. The stick is a small one and used only to prevent things getting out of hand. Don't expect people whacking the poor tigers with a lump of wood, it's all gentle and works amazingly well. Again, you could argue that we shouldn't be in the enclosure at all, which could even be true. But right and wrong is not as simple as black and white. If the money raised is used for conservation than it is well spend in my view. But even if it isn't... don't forget that getting people up close with animals is the best conservation there is. If just one percent of those people leaves with a different approach towards animals then they have achieved something monumental. 

We had an amazing experience at Tiger Kingdom. We love cats, always have, so this was beautiful for us. The little ones were playful... as you would expect, but the biggest tigers of them all had just been moved to a new enclosure and were sorting out the pecking order between them, and in doing so were even more active that the little ones! Even just being there up close with these majestic and beautiful animals was a real special moment. As for them being in an enclosure, perhaps we should not forget that if we hadn't let the bastards which shoot tigers for fun roam around for free, and thereby driving the tigers to near enough extinction, than nothing like this would have been necessary. Perhaps we should all concentrate on that...