Thailand Tiger Tourism

Are Thailand’s Tiger Farms Ethical?

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I love cats of all shapes and sizes, so when I learned that Chiang Mai was home to one of Thailand’s infamous “tiger farms,” I had basically but no choice to include it in my itinerary for today.

There was just one thing that bothered me. See, the reason tiger tourism in Thailand is “infamous” is that, according to rumor anyway, the tigers are drugged so they don’t, like, kill you.

The good news is that I returned from Chiang Mai’s “Tiger Kingdom” unscathed and unscratched. The bad news? I found no evidence that definitively confirms or denies the farm’s tigers are being sedated, promotional leaflets notwithstanding.

Tiger Kingdom begins assuring you that its tigers are not drugged almost as soon as you enter. After you select your tiger package (prices range from 420 Thai baht for a single visit with a large tiger, all the way up to 2,000 THB to meet tigers of all four pre-determined sizes), you are directed to a waiting area, where “educational” materials such as these reside.

I selected a package that allowed me to get up-close and personal with “big,” “small” and “smallest” tigers. Up first were the “smallest” tigers, who were extremely playful and rambunctious, although one of them seemed extremely lethargic for the first few minutes I was in the pen. All it took for him to begin playing with the others was a jostle from one of his trainers, so I doubted he was drugged.

 
 
 
 
 

Up next were the “small” tigers, of which there were three. As had been the case with the “smallest” tigers, one of the small tigers seemed pretty out of it. But as had been the case in the other pen, he shot up from his sleep almost on command, and began pacing around. I should note that for both the “smallest” and “small” tigers, trainers were pretty lax about the extent to which visitors such as myself could play with the tigers.

Although the trainer invited me to lay with the “small” tigers as I’d done with the babies, I was initially reluctant — I don’t think the “insurance included” notation on the package receipt had been for nothing.

But I did my best to become comfortable with the tiger because let’s face it: Animals can smell fear. Speaking of senses, I found it interesting that I am slightly allergic to tigers, just as I am to house cats.

Although the staff were in many cases just as playful as the tigers, I never once felt unsafe inside the tiger pens, although I did wonder to what extent they were trained to deal with an unlikely emergency.

Back to the issue of tigers being drugged, it wasn’t until I entered the “big” tiger pen that I became suspicious again. Could this huge animal really just be “tired,” as the informational leaflets had said? I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little scared interacting with him.

To my knowledge, this “big” female tiger is the only cat woman I saw during my time at Tiger Kingdom. Interestingly, she seemed much more on edge than any of the males had seemed. Or I assume she did — she acted just like my mom’s cats do when they’re spooked. I couldn’t help but feel a little bad for her. It must suck to be in a cage, regardless of whether you’re being drugged.

At the end of the day, the judgment call is yours alone: Do you think tiger tourism in Thailand is ethical?

About The Author

is the author of 758 posts on Leave Your Daily Hell. Robert founded Leave Your Daily Hell in 2010 so that other travelers would have an entertaining, reliable source of information, advice and inspiration at their fingertips. Want to travel more often? Subscribe to email updates today!

 

informs, inspires, entertains and empowers travelers like you. My name is Robert and I'm happy you're here!

 
 
 

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  • Narathiwat/Pattani, Thailand June 15-19
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{ 41 comments… read them below or add one }

Robert November 30, 2014 at 3:06 pm

I’m not torn, I would never put money in the pockets of those scum. It’s a complete no no and shame on the author for pretending he is undecided about what’s going on. I understand your feelings though Alpha, it would be great experience from a selfish point of view.

Audrey Gargas December 14, 2014 at 11:52 am

Does anyone know if they de-claw at these places?

Robert Schrader December 15, 2014 at 7:06 am

The definitely don’t at the one in Chiang Mai. I saw some big claws!

Lachlan January 18, 2015 at 2:32 am

Yet you don’t seem to respond to any of the criticism, it lacks objectivity and professionalism.

Robert Schrader January 18, 2015 at 4:33 pm

Well frankly, I prefer to let a lot of it stand because, frankly, I don’t have the professional expertise either to refute or agree with it. At the end of the day, the purpose of this post was not to make a proclamation, but to convey my experience and provide a forum for discussion – the title of the post is a question, after all.

Emely January 23, 2015 at 1:59 pm

I love your page!! I would love to to to Thailand in the summer! thanks for the tips !

Robert Schrader January 26, 2015 at 9:53 am

Thanks for reading!

A January 28, 2015 at 5:50 am

It’s unethical. Period. You did no research and presented no facts whatsoever in the article. You just visited a controversial place and said ‘maybe it is maybe it isn’t.’ Do some research and learn about the forced breeding, the natural behaviors of tigers, the effects of living a life in a cage, and the huge black market prices for tiger parts.
If I were you, I’d take this article down. It promotes bad tourism and shows that you don’t know what you’re talking about.

There’s so much beauty in Thailand, this should not be a highlight.

Monkeypit January 30, 2015 at 5:53 pm

I’m so incredibly disappointed by this, and by the photo of you cuddling the tiger on your “two weeks in Thailand” article. If you really want to establish yourself as an authority on travel, you really need to rethink your approach to the ethics of what you’re doing, and what you’re promoting–and no, writing a post which “asks the question” isn’t enough. I’m glad you got to “leave your daily hell.” I’m sad and frustrated that you’ve contributed–and with your articles, continuing to contribute–to the daily hell of these animals.

Robert Schrader February 3, 2015 at 9:36 pm

And I’m disappointed that you feel the need to anonymously belittle me on the blog I’ve worked half a decade to create, while you likely haven’t accomplished a damn thing in your life.

Mya February 4, 2015 at 8:02 pm

The tigers are poked and prodded with sticks. And they are definitely drugged!!!! It’s disgusting I was reduced to tears the big tigers have a purple substance on their paws and mouths and necks! I asked what it was as I sae it on the hands of the handler as well I assumed they would lie and say it was antibiotic so the Tigers don’t get sick from the tourist they however said that it was to “keep the tiger calm” aka drug the tiger! They are liars and disgusting excuses for humans. Anyone who has a domestic cat knows if you want the cat to consume medicine when it is sick you smear it on its paws and nose and neck so that the cat will lick it and consume the medicine.

Tatiana Builes February 5, 2015 at 8:06 pm

I went to Tiger Kingdom about a week ago despite all the outrage about this place mainly because I wanted to judge for myself and because I love felines and wanted to see the tigers up close. After asking a lot of questions to all of the trainers I encountered, I learned that it is mainly a breeding/training center for Tigers where some of they are trained to be sold to circuses. I can understand why a lot of people find this completely unethical, but I think it’s more honorable to breed them, train them and allow humans to interact with them than to let them die in the jungle. Most Tigers are getting killed by poachers who sell their furs in the black markets, that is why they are getting extinct. I think that they are making a good job at breeding and maintaining them healthy. Perhaps some of the Tigers could be released into the wilderness, however they could run the risk of getting hunted by humans. According to a couple of trainers there were ninety Tigers on site in my opinion the space is too small for them, however they all seemed very healthy, well taken care of and well nourished. Even the trainers and staff seemed very happy and privileged to be able to work with these Tigers. The trainers said that the younger Tigers are the ones that sometimes attack because they are new to the world and are learning to control themselves. They also denied the use of sedatives affirming that Tigers are very smart and can be trained so it’s not necessary to drug of them. Since these Tigers are domesticated they get used to humans. People always want to judge and it’s a lot easier to hate than to try to understand. If the animal exploitation factor is the issue then everyone should complain and say that it’s unethical for us to have to pay for visas, taxes, water, electricity, tickets, rents and yada yada yada. This place is making money but it’s also spending a lot of money in the maintenance of these Tigers and the proof is in the pudding as they all seemed very well nourished. If we are going to point the finger at this place for keeping animals in cages then we should also start questioning if it’s right for humans to keep pets such as dogs, cats, birds, reptiles, amphibians and rodents caged inside our homes. And also think about the food industry, is it ok to photograph people eating burgers, steaks, chicken, pork, etc etc but not ethical to take a picture with a tiger in captivity?

Syd February 6, 2015 at 10:53 am
Robert Schrader February 8, 2015 at 5:11 pm

Thanks for the link!

Robert Schrader February 8, 2015 at 5:12 pm

Thanks for your perspective Tatiana, and I agree: people have a double standard on animal rights, depending on the type of animal. It’s unfortunate!

Darren C (BlogDaz) February 14, 2015 at 8:50 pm

Looks like the authorities have finally seen the light, the Tiger Temple is no more, Amen….

DeadTiger March 3, 2015 at 8:15 pm

A double standard is still a standard. Take down your photos of you with Tigers, you are clearly embarrassed by it and simply don’t want to admit to that.

Robert Schrader March 4, 2015 at 5:38 am

And why don’t you use your real name then?

DeadTiger March 4, 2015 at 7:53 am

So, an anonymous comment on the internet is the equal of partaking in the suffering of some of the greatest animals left on earth. Your morality is beyond skewed. Grow up.

Maz March 13, 2015 at 12:20 am

Anyone who has any doubt about the danger of, even domesticated Tigers, need only look at poor Roy of “Sigfried and Roy” fame–Las Vegas

Unethical Traveller May 4, 2015 at 2:29 pm

You really have no shame have you? Monkeypit commented on your unethical actions, and you attack them personally. I know as a human being, we all hate to think poorly of ourselves, but you, and I mean this with all seriousness, are acting unethically. You think that a cute picture with a tiger cub is worth the pain caused to these animals? I have seen many other travel bloggers when challenged on such things, either take the images down, or give a massive mea culpa at top of the article. You have done neither. I repeat, you are in the wrong. You weren’t always like this Rob.

Robert Schrader May 5, 2015 at 2:53 pm

Says the person who comments anonymously. Bravo!

soiboy June 19, 2015 at 11:10 am

people have been riding elephants for thousands of years without negative health effects to the elephants, in Thailand the problem with elephants is not people riding them, but the ones forced to live in cities where they beg for their owners. There are some very good elephant camps where the elephants are treated humanely and allowed limited interactions with volunteers and tourists. It’s the ones that are over worked you have to worry about. there are also still wild elephant herds in the mountains in Thailand as well.

soiboy June 19, 2015 at 11:22 am

thanks for posting this, it is a very difficult topic as there are lots of emotions on both sides, and yet too little intelligence or reliable information. Most of the tigers in the tiger farms and temples are not the native Indochinese tigers (yes, there are still breeding populations of Indochinese tigers in the wild in Thailand) but Bengal tigers. Some places most likely end up selling some of the adult tigers to places they should not. Some places are better. Thailand is actually doing pretty well protecting its native population of Indochinese tigers and the population is actually rising http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2011/may/17/thailand-jungles-rising-hopes-tiger . China and Vietnam are the worst in terms of wanting to consume tiger parts and they create the market for the bad dealing with tigers. Thai people don’t generally eat tiger parts, Chinese people do. I lived in Thailand for a number of years and met people who lived there for 20+ years, but still couldn’t even order off a menu in Thai, yet, they are experts and think they know everything about Thailand when their knowledge is superficial at best as they cannot even speak Thai. Don’t let these type of people get you down, there is good and bad in every country, including Thailand.

soiboy June 19, 2015 at 12:03 pm

There are two kinds of ignorant tourists that go to Thailand. The first is rude and abusive to everyone and everything they encounter in Thailand and don’t care who or what they use and abuse for their own personal entertainment. This first kind is very obviously ignorant and sad to see. The second kind are the ones who suddenly become experts about every evil they think is perpetrated in Thailand whether there is actual evidence or not. They see evil conspiracies under every activity and they feel that they are the only ones who will be able to expose these supposed nefarious activities to the world. They want to be a super hero and will do whatever they can and destroy anyone in their path on their righteous vendetta. They ignorantly destroy many good people and good organization’s reputations. This second kind is even more ignorant and certainly more dangerous than the first. Sadly, they almost always know nothing about Thailand, Thai people, Thai culture and especially Thai language. The comment section here is absolutely filled with the second kind. Even more sadly, many have never even stepped foot in Thailand!

Robert Schrader June 22, 2015 at 8:04 am

Right? Thank you for putting this into perspective.

Aditi Raulia October 30, 2015 at 11:31 am

Ok, the Tiger No Need Drug sign is sketchy as hell and should’ve been a dead giveaway lol

Robert Schrader November 6, 2015 at 1:45 pm

Touché

Karen Shoshana December 29, 2015 at 7:37 pm

I would love to hang with a tiger or two, but seeing those guys on concrete enclosed in cages is enough to keep me away. My heart goes out to them.

PaintmeParadise March 22, 2016 at 10:01 pm

I volunteered for 2 months at Tiger Kingdom in Chiang Mai (do not confuse it with Tiger Temple which is a different place!) and if you want to know what it’s really like behind the scenes. Please read my article The Truth about Tiger Kingdom here: http://www.paintmeparadise.com/en/truth-tiger-kingdom/

Robert Schrader March 23, 2016 at 6:48 am

Thanks for sharing this article!

PaintmeParadise March 23, 2016 at 8:06 am

Yeah I know the answer. Check out my article here: The Truth about Tiger Kingdom. http://www.paintmeparadise.com/en/truth-tiger-kingdom/

PaintmeParadise March 23, 2016 at 8:09 am

Actually I’m not sure know anything since you haven’t worked there yourself, or seen what happens behind the scenes. I worked there for 2 months and spent a lot of time with the vet and the trainers. You can read my story here: http://www.paintmeparadise.com/en/truth-tiger-kingdom/

PaintmeParadise March 23, 2016 at 8:10 am

Here’s my post as well from my volunteer experience at Tiger Kingdom: http://www.paintmeparadise.com/en/truth-tiger-kingdom/

PaintmeParadise March 23, 2016 at 8:11 am

Please read my story about volunteering, and what happens behind the scenes here: http://www.paintmeparadise.com/en/truth-tiger-kingdom/

PaintmeParadise March 23, 2016 at 8:12 am

Please read my experience about my time volunteering at Tiger Kingdom. http://www.paintmeparadise.com/en/truth-tiger-kingdom/

PaintmeParadise March 23, 2016 at 8:13 am

Please read my story about volunteering at Tiger Kingdom and what I found out after working there for 2 months.http://www.paintmeparadise.com/en/truth-tiger-kingdom/

PaintmeParadise March 23, 2016 at 8:13 am

You can read my volunteer story here: http://www.paintmeparadise.com/en/truth-tiger-kingdom/

PaintmeParadise March 23, 2016 at 8:17 am

Here is my story from my time volunteering there. http://www.paintmeparadise.com/en/truth-tiger-kingdom/

PaintmeParadise March 23, 2016 at 8:29 am

Hi Tatiana, actually, they’re not being sold. It’s illegal for them to sell the tigers. Please read about my volunteering experience on: http://www.paintmeparadise.com/en/truth-tiger-kingdom/

me September 8, 2016 at 10:46 pm

You pushing your article so much makes me think you are part of the Tiger Kingdom company. Did you need to post your article on practically every thread? I agree with NormEron.

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