It was the weirdest, most thrilling, absurd morning of my life. After traveling for 24 hours on a plane and only getting 3 hours of sleep, I found myself at Phuket’s Tiger Kingdom:
Tigers at Tiger Kingdom are hand raised by their trainers since young, bonding with it throughout the development process. The trainer employ a combination of repetition, trust and encouragement to train their big cats and over time the Big Cat are use to human and often see us as one of the family.
In this family, I’d be Crazy Cousin Julie.
What happened in the tiger cage should have stayed in the tiger cage, but as ailsapm suggested in her blog post today, we could all use a little laughter in our lives about now. So, as humiliating as these pictures are, I am sharing them here with you in the hopes that it will give you a laugh or at least a smile.
The instructions at Tiger Kingdom were simple:
- Approach the tigers from behind.
- Pet them firmly, not lightly.
- Do not ask staff to take pictures for you. They are there to monitor the animals and keep things safe.
It all sounded reasonable to me.
I acknowledged that I’d read the instructions and was let through two sets of cage doors where I found myself face-to-face with my first tiger. Another woman was petting him, but as soon as she finished, one of the young men lead me over to the tiger and directed me to approach him near his tail. He held out his hand for my camera and said he’d take my picture. It was completely opposite from the rules I’d just read, but I shrugged and handed over my camera.
I gingerly crouched behind the first tiger and firmly petted him as instructed. His fur felt coarser and shorter than I’d imagined. I couldn’t believe I was doing this!
I stroked my hand along his back and the trainer said he was only 16 months old. He was so big! Then the trainer took me to the next tiger and told me to lay down behind him.
I moved over slightly and got a little closer to the ground.
“Lay down. Lay down by tiger.”
This seemed weird, but okay. I lowered myself to the ground behind the tiger and petted him again.
“Lay on tiger!”
“Lay on tiger. Lay your head.” Like an idiot, I did.
The trainer kept clicking away as he directed me to rest my chin on my hands on the tiger’s back. Then, as I rubbed his stomach.
“Pick up his tail!”
This seemed like I was pushing my luck.
“You can pick it up. Pick up tail!”
Against my better judgment, I did as he said AGAIN. My cats would have hissed and shredded me with their claws if I did it to them, but this tiger seemed okay with it.
“Now bite his tail.”
Bite his tail?
“Pretend to bite.”
God help me, I pretended to bite the tiger’s tail as the trainer snapped away. I was starting to feel like I was more of a display than the tigers.
We moved on to one of the females. I petted her and left her tail alone. The last male was yawning and growling, but that didn’t stop me or the trainer from thinking that this was another good photo op.
“You pretend to be tiger, too.”
I complied and made a goofy attempt at tiger claws behind the back of this gorgeous tiger, but couldn’t stop laughing at the absurdity. It’s best the tiger had his back to me. I looked ridiculous and he surely would have turned around and bitten me if he’d seen how “fierce” the laughing hyena woman posing behind him was.
My tiger encounter only lasted about 15 minutes, but it was the highlight of my trip. The whole thing was so absurd. I felt like I was in a Ben Stiller comedy. It was totally touristy and totally crazy. But that doesn’t change the facts: I petted tigers. I picked up their tails. I laid my head on one’s body.
I touched tigers in Thailand!
What animal would you pose with, given the chance?