This post continues my discussion of ST’s and my visit to the Tiger Temple in Kanchanaburi. As with yesterday’s post, I focused the photos on the animals themselves instead of the “status-update-ready” photos of us with the tigers.
After our initial encounters with the juvenile tigers I detailed yesterday, we moved on to the scheduled activities with the adult tigers. First, we helped wash an adult tiger and fed him a hunk of cooked chicken. The feeding exercise was the one time we were encouraged to crouch in front of the tiger since the chicken would be his focus, not us.
Next it was time for us to go into a play area with the tigers and “play” with them. This was probably the most insane part of the day. We were each given a long stick with a noisy “toy” on the end and assigned a Tiger Temple volunteer to mind each of us. The toys were bags filled with anything that would make noise, all tied to the end of the stick. Once inside the enclosure, we were encouraged to make noise with the toys and lift them before the tiger got to it. This was all fine and good until one of the tigers got hold of one of them and got himself tangled in the bits of bag that were tied to the stick, distracting two of the Tiger Temple workers. And let’s be clear – there were adult tigers everywhere. It was hard to keep track of where they all were at any given point. I will tell you unashamedly that at one point ST and I just stood back-to-back and waited to get out of that cage.
After this, we had the opportunity to walk the adult tigers, which was fine. It wasn’t a very long walk, and things were fairly controlled at that point. The walk took us over to a canyon area where the “head-in-lap” pictures were taken. This was the part of the day where the tigers were obviously tranquillized. The setup is this: we sat down behind one adult tiger, the Tiger Temple worker put the tiger’s head in ST’s lap, and then they took photos with our cameras. It all happened pretty quickly, but I didn’t sense that the tiger was even aware we were there.
After the photos, it was time for us to watch the adult tigers play in a little water feature in one corner of the canyon. This was fascinating to watch. We were placed in a little cage that was essentially a handful of fence pieces leaned together to form a small space, and about 8 tigers were brought in. The animals quickly rushed over to the water, clearly excited about play time. One Tiger Temple worker got into the water with them and encouraged one of the tigers to jump off a series of stone steps, using one of the stick toys like we had used earlier. Most of the tigers played among themselves while we watched. Honestly, this was my favorite part of the day – watching the animals in close proximity without directly interacting with them would have been my preference for the whole experience.
Like I wrote yesterday, everything I’ve read about the Tiger Temple since visiting there tells me this place is not good for the animals (best case) and is actively exploiting them and selling them off for parts on the black market, or so National Geographic alleges (worst case). It’s unfortunate that as long as there is tourist demand to see these tigers and interact with them, the Tiger Temple and other places like it will supply that demand. From that perspective, part of me is glad I went there so I can help spread the word to others not to visit these places. The rest of me is deeply sad that places like this exist at all and equally upset that my money helped perpetuate them.
Title quote: Konrad Adenauer