Thailand Tiger Tourism

Are Thailand’s Tiger Farms Ethical?

Need help planning your trip to Thailand? Click here to hire me as your Travel Coach!

 
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 766 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!

 
 
 

Get Email Updates

Like what you're reading? Sign up to receive my weekly email newsletter – it's like a trip around the world to end every week!

Upcoming Trips

  • Southeast Asia's Golden Triangle June 29-July 3
  • Ireland July 19-30
  • Mae Sot, Thailand August 18-22
  • Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand September 1-4
 
 

{ 41 comments… read them below or add one }

Raab September 6, 2012 at 7:10 am

it is unethical. Just as riding a tourist-elephant is.

Using animals as ‘tools’, for example in agriculture, has a common purpose and helps improve the living conditions of the locals. These tigers, however, have to suffer and live their lives in a cage just so… Rich people from overseas can come in with their fancy camera’s and have their picture taken?

i highly, highly disaprove and never visit things like this when i travel.

Robert Schrader September 6, 2012 at 9:38 am

Interesting and (harsh) perspective. Have you never participated in any such activities during your travels?

Jabu September 7, 2012 at 7:19 am

I have to agree with Raab. I refuse to visit zoos because of the conditions animals live in as well as the idea that the sole purpose of any animal is to acquiesce to our ridiculous desire to treat them as play things. On the other hand, here in South Africa there are a lot of sanctuaries that serve to rehabilitate and take care of abandoned or wounded animals. I went to the Cango sanctuary in Outshoorn where I, just like you Robert, got up and close with a tiger. I’ve also been to a sanctuary where lions are kept and also played with lion cubs. The money charged for entry is used to keep the sanctuary functioning. That said we were warned vehemently that no matter how small they are they’re still dangerous. I learned that quickly when a lion cub, no more than a few months old, bit me. We were given all sorts of warning about touching them. That you lay down next to a tiger makes me suspicious about the “we don’t drug our tigers” theory, even if the animals are reared by humans from birth. There’s evidence worldwide that shows a wild animal no matter how often they’ve been in human company is still a wild animal.
Other than that I really love reading your blog. you inspire me! I hope to meet you in South Africa one day!

Tamara Lowe September 7, 2012 at 11:49 pm

I have never been, but only heard good things about this particular sanctuary. There is also one near Bangkok, which is apparently very bad and I could never go to a place like that. I am no tiger expert, but grew up with lots of cats. They are by nature just very sleepy animals and nocturnal creatures, so very inactive during the day. I suspect tigers are no different. I think you can tell if an animal is drugged or just sleepy.

Sharon Amrolia September 14, 2012 at 5:24 am

Hi!.i have worked in Thailand and volunteered with rescued elephants .. and the tiger temple??? i would not encourage any one to go there as i have been working with people who have great knowledge and inside information and are trying hard to shut down this very cruel tiger “show” . i agree with raab and Jabu. No riding elephants ( they do not have strong backs) and i have personally seen the aftereffects of this on older elephants. and touch and sleeping next to a tiger! come on. If you take a minute to think?? A predator?? Lets you do that?? that itself id indication that something is not right.!

Substation January 21, 2013 at 6:59 am

thats rubbish. old people get bad backs and two, regular cats are predators too

LN Cognito April 2, 2013 at 7:02 am

Please read this article and make your own decision about whether or not these places are safe. This woman is my best friend in Thailand. She didn’t touch the tiger on the head, she was wearing a t-shirt at the time (no sleeves) and the “trainer” ran away during the attack.

http://www.thaivisa.com/forum/topic/238320-new-zealand-woman-mauled-by-tiger/

Robert Schrader April 2, 2013 at 11:26 am

Thanks very much for providing your perspective!

Dave Williams June 8, 2013 at 11:19 pm

Enlighten us as to where you got your degree in animal behavior, please. “Regular cats” don’t weight several hundred pounds and are not really capable of eating you. They have also been domesticated for an extremely long time.

No one who actually has compassion for these endangered WILD animals would even consider financially supporting such a place. I’ve lived in Thailand for 20+ years. Animal cruelty, especially if there is money to be made from it, is rampant. This place should NOT be patronized. You have no real idea what you’re supporting.

Sorry, Robert, you weren’t doing research. You were supporting something that is extremely unethical.

Robert July 14, 2013 at 1:19 pm

Listen to the guy who’s lived in Thailand for 20 years..he knows what he’s talking about. And anyone who believes they aren’t drugged are deluding themselves. It makes me very angry that rich westerners can pose with fully grown tigers…wrap their tales round their necks. Same with riding elephants. Shame on you. Shame on you all.

Jade August 5, 2013 at 10:05 am

Whether it’s ethical or not i believe it is a catch 22 situation. I didn’t like it there but the tigers were beautiful. All you can do is share your view and let people decide for themselves. Here’s the post I wrote after my visit http://tiggerbird.blogspot.com/2013/05/beautiful-but-be-aware-tiger-kingdom.html

Robert Schrader August 6, 2013 at 7:55 am

Thanks for your perspective, Jade! Please share this article, and keep reading the site if you like it!

NormEron October 7, 2013 at 3:41 pm

Any place that will let a human touch a tiger is doing harm to tigers everywhere… Even if the facility in question treats their animals in the best possible way. The fact that people are posting pics online of themselves with tigers means that there is a demand for this and there are less ethical people that will exploit that market. It turns every wild tiger into a source of potential income for a poor person living near a natural tiger habitat. Bag a breeding pair and you’re set for life. Depending on the sub-species of tiger and/or the location, there could be less than 100 animals left in the wild. Best case scenario (the bengal tiger) there’s 2000. With almost a billion people living below the poverty line within range of a natural tiger habitat, the more people that visit places like this, the fewer wild tigers there will be.

A tiger sanctuary, or reserve is a different story. If the tigers are given a preserved habitat to live a natural lifestyle and the intent is to increase natural tiger populations, then by all means visit these places and take your pictures from afar. But if they let you touch one, they’re doing harm.

Alpha_Geek_Mk2 October 7, 2013 at 6:32 pm

I’m torn- it’s a terrible thing for the tigers to live this way, but it’d be SO cool to hang out with them.

Adrian Fleur December 7, 2013 at 8:57 am

Hi Robert. I’m glad I found this. I’ve had many brutal debates with people over the topic, and anyone who knows me knows I’m a very tiring animal activist 🙂 However, I hold the unpopular opinion on this topic: I strongly feel places like Tiger Kingdom are necessary in order to preserve the species.

Asian countries are far behind some others in terms of conservation and rehabilitation of their wildlife and nature, and places that offer animals as a tourist attraction for monetary gain (which goes back into breeding and taking care of them) is unfortunately the only way it’s going get done.

Of course I am against riding elephants or using them or any other animals in shows, but I have to draw the line at people hanging out with tame cats. Everyone can fearlessly bash others online, but if you ever get the chance to sit down and hash it out, you’ll find little to no alternatives to places like Tiger Kingdom.

This is not La La Land. It’s Thailand, and it’s not wild anymore.

Here’s my post about the place: http://marketofeden.blogspot.com/2013/06/a-visit-to-tiger-kingdom.html

Robert Schrader December 13, 2013 at 7:00 am

Adrian, thanks for your comment and for sharing your post! <3

Simone January 9, 2014 at 6:31 pm

100% agree! couldn’t have said it any better. still so many people love it and post their photos on facebook.. it makes me throw up! how can they not understand what’s going on?! sad world.

Simone January 9, 2014 at 6:36 pm

YES, tiger tourism in Thailand is 100% unethical! There is not one single doubt against it. I will never understand why people go such placing, just to have some kind of adventure. Maybe their real lives are too boring. I don’t know what kick they get out of riding on tortured elephants or taking pictures with drugged tigers. Everyone who goes there supports animal abuse at its worst!

Simone January 9, 2014 at 6:37 pm

*”go to such places” is what I meant

Raphael Alexander Zoren January 11, 2014 at 6:55 pm

It’s all about nature vs nurture, these tigers were raised to live alongside humans and not to see them as prey. I visited Tiger Kingdom in November 2013 and was very happy to see the big tigers swimming and jumping at the pool. They were definitely NOT drugged. At all. Here’s a few photos of my encounter: http://journeywonders.com/2013/11/07/tigers-chiang-mai/

Guest January 12, 2014 at 6:01 am

It is amazing, I agree

I was at the Tiger Kingdom yesterday (Im from the USA and came with my mom, son and other family members). Yes, the tigers are nice and the place seems clean. The cost is reasonable and the place seems rather organized… BUT here are some indicators that something fishy is going on at this place:

– There is no information about the tigers; no information about tiger preservation; nothing that is “pro-tiger”. A place that cared about these animals would be presenting information that helped visitors realize how important preservation is, and would provide information about tiger history, care, etc. None of this exists at the Tiger Kingdom

– When you come here there are ALWAYS the options to choose to play with infant tigers; baby tigers; “teenage” tigers; medium tigers; and adult tigers. IE there are ALWAYS newborn tigers at this location. When we were there yesterday there were 13 new-born tigers. These tigers grow up pretty quickly – – they are “adult” size in a year. If this place always has baby tigers, that means that it is breeding A LOT of tigers. These tigers grow up. Where does the over flow of tigers end up? Sold for teeth? Fur? Remember – tigers parts are big $$ when sold to the Chinese market (tiger parts are believed to give strength to those that consume them). This location cannot handle housing all of the tigers that it breeds (there are only about 50 there total). WHAT DO THEY DO WITH THE OVER FLOW OF ADULT TIGERS THAT THEY END UP WITH AFTER BREEDING SO MANY BABIES? If you know the answer, please post it.

– Here is what I have learned from visiting animals in other countries (maybe, in fact, I am still learning this and just now finally realizing it): when companies use animals for money, these animals are not being treated properly. It is safe to assume that a company who’s sole interest is to make money on animals does not care about the overall care or safety – or even life – of the animal. I am sorry to say, the Tiger Kingdom is a profit-based tourist trap. They *may not* drug tigers BUT THERE IS ABUSE HAPPENING HERE TOO. Keep in mind, too, that these tigers may be slightly drugged (don’t be surprised), just not drugged to the point of falling over (although they sort of do fall over pretty frequently, it isn’t dramatic – it just seems they are very very mellow)

Gea D'Marea January 12, 2014 at 6:01 am

It is amazing, I agree…BUT…

I was at the Tiger Kingdom yesterday (Im from the USA and came with my mom, son and other family members). Yes, the tigers are nice and the place seems clean. The cost is reasonable and the place seems rather organized… BUT here are some indicators that something fishy is going on at this place:

– There is no information about the tigers; no information about tiger preservation; nothing that is “pro-tiger”. A place that cared about these animals would be presenting information that helped visitors realize how important preservation is, and would provide information about tiger history, care, etc. None of this exists at the Tiger Kingdom

– When you come here there are ALWAYS the options to choose to play with infant tigers; baby tigers; “teenage” tigers; medium tigers; and adult tigers. IE there are ALWAYS newborn tigers at this location. When we were there yesterday there were 13 new-born tigers. These tigers grow up pretty quickly – – they are “adult” size in a year. If this place always has baby tigers, that means that it is breeding A LOT of tigers. These tigers grow up. Where does the over flow of tigers end up? Sold for teeth? Fur? Remember – tigers parts are big $$ when sold to the Chinese market (tiger parts are believed to give strength to those that consume them). This location cannot handle housing all of the tigers that it breeds (there are only about 50 there total). WHAT DO THEY DO WITH THE OVER FLOW OF ADULT TIGERS THAT THEY END UP WITH AFTER BREEDING SO MANY BABIES? If you know the answer, please post it.

– Here is what I have learned from visiting animals in other countries (maybe, in fact, I am still learning this and just now finally realizing it): when companies use animals for money, these animals are not being treated properly. It is safe to assume that a company who’s sole interest is to make money on animals does not care about the overall care or safety – or even life – of the animal. I am sorry to say, the Tiger Kingdom is a profit-based tourist trap. They *may not* drug tigers BUT THERE IS ABUSE HAPPENING HERE TOO. Keep in mind, too, that these tigers may be slightly drugged (don’t be surprised), just not drugged to the point of falling over (although they sort of do fall over pretty frequently, it isn’t dramatic – it just seems they are very very mellow)

Robert Schrader January 12, 2014 at 1:21 pm

Thanks for providing your perspective, Gea!

Robert Schrader January 12, 2014 at 1:23 pm

Great points, Raphael!

Christine Knopp January 23, 2014 at 7:57 pm

I got incredibly angry when I found out a school friend visited one of these places. Yeah, any legit place would honestly care about the wellfare of their tigers and animals!

I made a pretty long private message to her, and probably lost a friend, but seriously, anyone who supports these petting zoos and THINKS it has anything to do with conservation needs to get their head checked. I’m much more OK with the people who just admit they’re taking advantage of the animals for a good photo.

Carolyn February 18, 2014 at 10:41 pm

If you did your research, you would know that they sell their tigers to zoos all around the world. So, that is probably what they do with the excess tigers. If they were selling them on the black market, with all the publicity they get from tourism, I am sure people would find out immediately.

Carolyn February 18, 2014 at 10:43 pm

I agree with you! While I do not like when animals are treated badly and put in tiny enclosures, I think zoos are essential to keep certain endangered animals alive. Yes, some zoos are terrible, but others are actually extremely beneficial. We cannot generalize all zoos as being bad, but rather take zoos on a case by case basis. It frustrates me when people freak out about zoos. How else are we supposed to fight against the illegal trade of tigers and their extinction if we do not have programs that are keeping them alive and well?

Millyyyb March 17, 2014 at 7:05 am

No big cat is tame. End of. This is ridiculous! I’ve worked with tigers and lions in South Africa, so called “tame” orphans, ALL of which regain their instinct when they reach sexual maturity at around the age of 2. Tigers are especially playful when younger but this also makes them more dangerous, even from a young age if you bend over or lie on the floor in front of them their instincts kick in and they can easily turn from playful to predatorial, because they see you as a weak target, as they would in the wild. Even people that have studied and worked with big cats their entire life know the limits and dangers with a fully grown WILD animal. People such as Kevin Richardson are a complete exception, he spends every minute studying and working with one pride of lions, which had taken years to build and maintain relationships with. Tiger Kingdom claims the tigers do not attack because they are “tame” and “well fed” and view every single visitor as “family”? How are people buying this total BS! No wild animal can ever truly be considered tame, it’s not about how hungry the cat is, it’s their instinct, and tigers especially are solitary. They do not have a family like humans. There are many conservation places that people can truly educate themselves about these wonderful animals and still see them up close. A drowsy, drugged, sad animal is a shadow of how amazing a healthy and happy can be to observe.

Bethany April 7, 2014 at 10:14 pm

Hi there, I visited the Tiger Kingdom in Phuket and although the large tigers looked relaxed and I was concerned they may be drugged, I actually saw all but one of the large tigers in the enclosure get up and run around the pen in the hour or so I was there. Not only did they run, but they actually jumped full bodied into the air and into the swimming pool that is provided to them while playing with their trainer, who was holding up a large wooden pole with leaves dangling at the top. There is no evidence either way I understand, but tigers used are under 2 and considering the humidity of the place I can understand them being somewhat lazy and laid back. I just can’t believe that a drugged tiger would be able to jump full bodied into the air multiple times! My partner has three cats and they spend a large amount of the day and night sleeping or just wanting to be petted. Sure, the odd run or being silly here and there – but from my personal experience in Phuket it seemed about even with these large tigers!
My only real concern is where they go once they are over two…I can only hope (and I know it is wishful thinking) that the zoos they are sent to have high standards, such as Singapore Zoo. Singapore Zoo is amazing and the animals have large beautiful enclosures so that is the kind of place any captive animal should be kept.

Robert Schrader April 9, 2014 at 6:27 am

Thanks for providing a more positive perspective, Bethany!

Amelia August 2, 2014 at 3:37 pm

Well, I went today to the one in Phuket…and the ‘smallest’ tigers were really that small anymore.
You are right about exploiting them for money though. However, there are the occasional sanctuaries you find that take money genuinely to help develop enclosures etc. like the panda sanctuary in Chengdu, China. (Or so it seemed)

Robert Schrader August 3, 2014 at 8:21 am

Thanks for sharing your experience!

hypocritical tiger August 3, 2014 at 12:27 pm

I’m sorry that your best friend was injured, but when we went, explicit instructions were given numerous times not to touch the tigers above the shoulder. We took that instruction very seriously.
From the moment we walked through the front entrance, we knew we were taking a risk, and we knew it was absolutely our choice and our fault if anything happened to us in that cage. We were going to sit next to a living, breathing, meat-eating TIGER. Anyone who believes there is not a chance of an attack happening is just not very bright.

Regarding the morality of such places – I honestly cannot decide. I don’t believe the species preservation argument, because these tigers are unable to be bred in legit programs, due to the lack of knowledge about their genetics. However, if all legit programs were out of tigers, would it be so bad to continue to have tigers, regardless of their heritage?

I was disturbed by the lack of information about what happens to the tigers once they age out of these places, and I cannot find any definitive information about it. We have researched and found anecdotal reports for all sides of the issue, but nothing to prove the real answer.

This might be a horrible thing to say, but I would never have gone to such a place in the US (my home country) and in fact actively work to drive such places out of business, as well as educate others why these places should not exist. And then we went to Thailand and participated in the activities at Tiger Kingdom. Completely hypocritical, and I am not going to rationalize it – it was contrary to everything I believe in, but there I was, paying to touch a tiger.

Our experience there was truly amazing, if a little unsettling. We saw no evidence the tigers were drugged, and in fact they all – every single one – appeared healthy and alert. Terrifyingly, in some cases. The “trainers” (most of whom were kids in their 20s, it appeared) seemed to truly love the animals and have a connection with them. That is not an endorsement, just a report which indicated to me the animals were not abused or treated poorly – at least while they are of an age to be in the facility.

I did try to find out while there what happens when they age out, but the questions were sidestepped or a language barrier was raised – sometimes where there had not been one before. So yes, I think something sketchy is happening to these tigers after the age of 3. I would like to know – for a fact – what happens to them. I would also like to see the owners of these facilities making a visible and concerted effort to create a sanctuary for the older animals, and provide documentation about their lives throughout. Such a sanctuary could certainly also be an income generator, as are many sanctuaries worldwide – while still being useful, good places for animals of all sorts.

It does bother me that I went against my beliefs for an afternoon with these amazing animals, but it happened. I’m sure I’m not the only hypocrite who has done this. But I think if more hypocrites like me worked toward a solution, the animals would be better off over the course of their lives. I also totally agree that it would be better not to have these places at all, but I think that is an unrealistic goal in certain countries, at least in my lifetime. So I feel that working toward a compromised goal of ensuring the safety and wellbeing of the animals after they age out is a worthy goal. Pragmatism has to win out, and the fact is, the Thai government is not going to close these places any time soon. It would be a long haul to get the after-facility sanctuaries, but a more realistic end point – for now.

Robert Schrader August 4, 2014 at 7:27 am

Your story is really insightful, emotional and compelling. Thank you for sharing it!

Truth C September 15, 2014 at 8:55 am

I agree

chelsea October 26, 2014 at 7:12 am

ABC did a story on this a while ago, where Abbott (the guy who owns it), is apparently looking for a large enough plot of land for all the tigers to be able to life in a more spacey area, as well as start a rehab program to start assmilating the older tigers back into the wild. Havent heard any updates, but that is supposedly what is happening 🙂

Robert Schrader October 27, 2014 at 7:35 am

Great to see some positive news on this front! All the judgment and cynicism is really tiresome.

wdw October 29, 2014 at 6:23 am

Just went to tiger kingdom. “Trainers” told me the breed the tigers. The females usually reject the cubs so they are handled, raised and fed by hand in infancy. They are never allowed to leave their enclosures. it appeared to be a breeding mill without any real dedication to conservation. I left feeling a bit depressed and told other tourists that I did not feel it was worth wild or ethical.

LN Cognito October 29, 2014 at 10:26 pm
Robert Schrader October 30, 2014 at 9:39 am

interesting

Robert November 30, 2014 at 2:52 pm

‘Regular cats are predators too?’ Even for a random internet comment that is dumb. There is a size ratio involved, and the domestic moggy is smart enough to know that in a one on one they are gonna lose out to a human due to their being like a tenth of our size. If you were half the size of a domestic cat I wouldn’t advise getting too up close and personal. That said, domestic cats do take the odd swipe at your eyeball if the mood takes them anyway.

As for elephants, they are not horses you dumb shit. The slightest bit of research would have told you that their backs are not of the right structure to support direct weight. They are also beaten and tortured for years from babies to break their spirit and make them compliant, allowing fat idiots like yourself to have their photo taken waving from their back when in fact they could and should throw you on the floor and step on your fucking ignorant head.

Leave a Comment

{ 9 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: