Don’t we all dream of walking with tigers? Majestic walk, an air of heroic accomplishment, eyes fixed straight ahead and a tiger walking by your side; complete with music of your choice. I watch too many films, perhaps! Well, it is a little far-fetched, but possible in a tamer way. A place where tigers are raised on dog food, walked around on a leash and are accessible to petting by humans; you can even pose for a picture with a full grown albeit sleeping tiger. Welcome to Thailand!
Go beyond Bangkok’s nightlife and Pattaya’s ‘After Dark’ neons to explore another side of this beautiful country. Thailand’s infamous tiger temple is located at Kanchanaburi, a popular day trip in all Bangkok tourism guides. Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua, 2.5 hours from Bangkok a Theravada Buddhist forest temple that acts as a sanctuary for numerous animals, including several tame tigers. Founded in 1994, the temple houses the Golden Jubilee Buddha Image, 80kg of pure gold.
How the tigers came here
In 1999, the villagers found a tiger cub and not knowing what to do with it, gave it to the monks in the temple. This one didn’t actually make it and died soon after. Whenever tigers had been killed by poachers and the cubs were found orphaned, they were brought to the temple and by 2007, over 21 cubs had been born at the temple itself. Currently, there are supposedly more than 100 tigers living in the temple.
The monks manage to successfully take care of these magnificent in spite of there being no managed breeding programme. The pedigree of these tigers, therefore, remains unknown. it is presumed they are Indochinese Tigers, except Mek, who is a Bengal Tiger. It is possible that some may be the newly discovered Malayan Tigers, while many probably are cross breeds or hybrids. There have been claims of mistreatment and abuse of the tigers, but none have been proved. All seems to be happy and well.
What you can do
For a fee, visitors may join in the tigers’ morning or evening exercise programme. No more than 20 visitors may do this at a time. The tigers are washed and handled by Thai monks, international volunteers and the local Thai staff. The abbot will intervene if a tiger becomes agitated. Guests can also indulge in bottle feeding tiger cubs, exercising adolescent tigers, bathing tigers, hand-feeding tigers and posing with sleeping adult tigers.
Once a day, the tigers are allowed out of their cages; they are led on leashes to a nearby quarry, where they can roam around freely. Tourists may observe this from some 10m away, and may be allowed to pet the tigers. So far, there has only been one serious attack on a tourist. The temple collects donations in order to build a larger tiger sanctuary which would allow the animals to live in an almost natural environment all day long. Eventually, they plan to release some of the animals back into the wild.
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