A Different Sort of Petting Zoo: Up Close and Personal with the Tigers of Phuket

Oct 6, 2013

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Petting zoos originated in the London Zoo in 1938 when it opened a special “children’s zoo” which allowed kids to feed and touch domesticated animals. This was ostensibly to give city kids an idea of what farm animals were like first-hand thus, usually featured sheep, goats, ponies, guinea pigs, pigs or rabbits that were generally safe to feed and interact with. This, in contrast to the regular zoos which usually featured wild animals within enclosures who were safely viewed from afar.

 

Everybody's brave when the tigers are sleepy...

 

On the ultimate day of our 3-day familiarization tour of Phuket, Thailand, our hosts from the Tourism Authority of Thailand (T.A.T.) Singapore office prepared a special treat for our group of 12 journalists from the Visayas and Mindanao who were here to promote the island as another option for Filipino tourists planning to visit Bangkok, which recently surpassed Paris as the world’s most visited tourist destination. Cebu Pacific has a direct flight to Phuket every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

 

Just a short ride from our hotel Novotel Phuket Vintage Park, the Tiger Kingdom at Kathu features 30 tigers of various sizes from cubs barely 2-4 months old to full-grown adults 16-36 months of age. You can imagine everyone’s eyes getting big as saucers and mouths going agape when we realized this was a totally different sort of petting zoo where kids and adults alike interact with real live, carnivorous tigers!

 

Starting off with the cub....

 

The Chief Tiger Trainer assured us that all of the cats big and small were raised from domesticated tigers from Chiang Mai (where another similar Tiger Kingdom is located). The website says the trainers employ a combination of repetition, trust and encouragement to acclimatize the big cats to the presence of humans that they become used to being the presence and touch of people over time.

 

Contrary to a common perception to visitors and to those viewing photos of visitors interacting with the big cats online, they are neither drugged nor tranquilized.

 

“Tigers are by nature nocturnal animals so they usually rest and sleep by day,” the Chief Tiger Trainer assured us. However, all visitors are still advised to take precautions when interacting with the big cats in the interest of safety, like approaching them from the rear, and not touching their faces and front paws. Like anyone was brave enough to try anything funny!

 

Since we were rather pressed for time, our gracious hosts opted to allow us to interact with the smallest of cubs followed by the biggest of cats. Also, rather than the bigger enclosures where the big cats could run freely, they chose to have us interact with the sleeping cats in their enclosed cages with the trainers always present to guide and protect us, just in case!

 

At first, we approached even the small cubs with trepidation, even if they were sluggish and sleepy. But after the first session, everyone was suddenly eager to have their photo ops with the cuddly cubs.

 

The big cats were another thing though. We were walking bunched together as advised by our guides, and approached two sleeping adults who looked terrifyingly big! But again, after tip toeing from the rear and getting close to them as we could, we were soon at ease as the pair totally ignored us and we had a great time getting the pics of a lifetime (check out the pictures!)

 

With Grandpa and Grandma Tiger

 

Based on the feedbacks from previous visitors from many countries, reactions to the plight of the tigers are mixed: some think they are being exploited, still others don’t think so since they seem to be doing better than they would in the wild when poachers ruthlessly hunt them for their bones, eyes, whiskers and teeth which are used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat various ailments and diseases.

 

We were all bested by these two lady tourists. For a 10-minute time with three tigers, the going tariff is 800 baht per Big Tiger.

 

The moral dilemma is up to the visitor to decide. If you think getting up close and personal with tigers once in your life is worth the 800-1,000 baht it costs you for 10 minutes with these magnificent felines, by all means go and have a blast at either Phuket or Chiang Mai.

 

When planning itineraries to Phuket, visit the Tourism Authority of Thailand website at http://www.tourismthailand.org/.

 

The Philippines’ leading low-cost carrier, Cebu Pacific (CEB) flies direct from Manila to Phuket every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for as low as P999. It operates the most extensive network in the Philippines for convenient and easy flight connections to Manila.

 

For flight schedules and bookings, visit www.cebupacificair.com or call (02)7020-888 or (032)230-8888. The latest seat sales can also be found on Cebu Pacific Air’s official Facebook Fan Page or @cebupacificair on Twitter.

 

 

-INDNJC-

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