Behind the doors of Tiger Kingdoms
As Beyonce Knowles recent photo shows, the desire for tiger lovers to spend a moment petting a live tiger can be irresistible. Elusive in the wild, these majestic creatures are the stuff of magic, rarely glimpsed on often expensive trips to India’s tiger reserves, rarer still in the Russian Far East and Thailand where numbers are perilously low. So, the chance to pay less than £20 for the privilege of a cuddle and a photo (extra) seems a perfect solution for the tiger-loving tourist.
There are a growing number of places that offer these tiger petting sessions including the Tiger Kingdoms in Thailand. To the visitor, the tigers are well kept, happy, fragrant even (keepers say that only chicken is fed to them to avoid the strong smell that red meat creates) sometimes playful and usually happy to pose for a photo. Like most cats they sleep for at least 18 hours a day so grabbing a photo opportunity cuddled up to a full grown male is a favourite with many.
Bred at the facility and taken from their mothers two weeks after birth these cats may not have learned survival strategies, like avoidance of people, but they retain much of their natural, inherent behaviour and skills – such as how to kill – which is what makes them a danger in close proximity to people and is a key reason that they can never be safely released into the wild. They are bred, purely and simply for commercial gain.
At one of Thailand’s Tiger Kingdoms there are 16 ‘active’ Indochinese tigers, those on public display, and about 30 more kept behind the scenes, presumably for ensuring a breeding supply for the tourist attraction. These tigers are never seen. These are the tigers that are kept behind the closed doors of Tiger Kingdoms.
Recent research* suggests a link between the owners and operators of the Tiger Kingdoms in Thailand and tiger farms including one in Thakhek.
There is reportedly a supply chain from this farm to new breeding set ups at the Special Economic Zone and the King Romans casino in Lao PDR and there is little problem sourcing or breeding the tigers for these operations. The expertise is pretty much franchised out by the original owners in Thailand who, according to Karl Amman’s research, may also be shareholders in some of the new set-ups. With hundreds of tourists channelled through their Tiger Kingdom facilities on a daily basis, there seems to be little doubt that these operations offer an attractive investment proposal and will expand.
Ubon Zoo, which is part of the Tiger Kingdom network, was set up by a then Thai Senator who openly advocated the legislation of trade in captive bred tigers. In 2001, the owner of that zoo told investigators that 100-200 live tiger cubs a year were exported illegally via the Mekong from unregistered Thai breeds.
All this is a flagrant breach of the CITES decision that ‘parties with intensive operations breeding tigers on a commercial scale shall implement measures to restrict the captive population to a level supportive only of conserving wild tigers; tigers should not be bred for trade in their parts and derivatives.’
Amman’s research also claims that surplus tigers are being shipped out of the back door of the Tiger Kingdoms and their associated breeding facilities for further breeding or for sale in other forms such as bone, teeth and claws creating another key profit centre. Besides the sale of tigers at the Thakhek tiger farm to parties visiting from China and Vietnam, tigers being sold out of freezers on the Vietnam side of the border have also been documented.
As the old adage says, beauty is often only skin deep. So, before you indulge your passion for tigers please think carefully about what lies beneath the commercial face of tiger tourism.
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*Tiger Farming: an ‘industry’ with a range of profit centers by Karl Ammann – click here to read
Also see: Caged Assets – Tiger Farming and Trade (July 2014) – click here to read