One tiger cub is worth $2.6m, yet a 3 year old is worth nothing. Is it any wonder tigers go missing? I set out to collect the facts about Tiger Kingdom, hoping the tigers would be well cared for and not sedated.
Let’s start at the beginning.
Cubs are immediately separated and hand reared by humans. There’s no kind reason to do this. It’s distressing for mother and cubs. It also ruins any slim chance the cubs have to be released into the wild. From now on their survival is completely dependent on humans.
So why do it?
A healthy and happy tiger does not pose for selfies. So training must start immediately. Tiger Kingdom’s Head Tiger Trainer, Tony, explained the process:
Each trainer is given a small bamboo stick which is used to control the tiger. If they behave badly they will be drubbed on the nose. This is how they are trained when they are very young. The stick is only used for bad behavior, but they are retrained every morning before the tourists come in.
They must be separated because the mother would protect her cubs from this. Tourists have reported seeing the training process in action. Staff repeatedly provoke the tigers. Poking and tickling their face and ears. When the cat finally reacts it’s beaten on the nose, paws, rear and behind the ears. Some staff don’t even provoke, they just go straight in for the beating.
It’s designed to work like Chinese water torture. The well aimed hits aren’t too hard. And in a 15 minute tourist slot it doesn’t seem to bad. But the unrelenting nature breaks their spirits, making them submissive.
The practice of separating babies from parents and tormenting them from a young age is used throughout the animal entertainment industry. Tiger Kingdom has likened it’s tiger trainers to elephant mahouts. Who of course put elephant calves through the torture of the phajaan which directly translates to “breaking of the spirit”.
The second reason to separate cubs is that they are extremely profitable. They’re more adorable and less intimidating than the adults so more tourists pay to see them. This is reflected in their pricing structure:
2-3 months old
1000 THB / Person
4-8 months old
900 THB / Person
9-12 months old
800 THB / Person
13-30 months old
800 THB / Person
So what happens to cubs as they progress through these first 2.5 years?
At two months old they enter the tourist circus. Training is well underway. As seen in this 1:04 video the cub is hit constantly in the face and head.
Playfulness is discouraged and they will quickly be punished if they act too ‘wild’. The only affection these motherless little cubs receive is from camera happy tourists. The trainers must be intimidating at all times:
The trainers need to be in control, so they can’t hug the tigers or show too much affection. If there’s not a distinction and a tourist gets into trouble they will not know how to control the animal
At this age they should be leaving the den for the first time to explore the world around them. At Tiger Kingdom they remain inside a concrete room.
Two months later and their worth has fallen 100 THB / Person.
They’ve almost doubled in size and are moved into a larger outside cage. The punishments get harsher as they grow more dangerous with size.
9 months old and still cubs. They’re almost fully grown and have now depreciated 200 THB / Person.
Life hasn’t changed much from the cycle of pose, hit, pose, hit, pose, hit.
In this video the tiger is hit 7 times from 4:02 to 4:13 until it slowly climbs into the pool. It’s sad to watch because the tiger is moving so slowly. Trying to guess what the trainer wants and how to stop the pain.
While researching Tiger Kingdom I found lots of tigers being hit. But they were all smaller, small and medium. I couldn’t find any footage of big cats being hit. Trainers still carried the sticks, but don’t seem to use them?
However I did find lots of tourists reporting the big tigers were much more lethargic. And many suspected they were drugged.
Yes tigers sleep for 15.8 hours a day. But at 13 – 30 months they are still cubs. In the wild they wouldn’t leave their mother until 24 – 36 months old. So shouldn’t they be just as energetic and inquisitive as the others, if they still have so much left to learn?
Speculation of drugging has always surrounded Tiger Temple and Tiger Kingdom. While undercover investigations have found no evidence, people remain suspicious.
2.5 Years Old
At 30 months old tigers are separated from the tourist circus. In the drugging debate this is argued as a positive:
Adult tigers are often too dangerous and unpredictable for even professional handlers and it would be unethical to let you in. Chances are, any place letting you get close to tigers aged 30 months or older are either drugging or sedating them.
But they’re not just separated. They disappear. I couldn’t find a single image of a tiger over 30 months at Tiger Kingdom. Tiger Kingdom Phuket is also REALLY small. It’s almost the same size as the go-kart track next door. There isn’t room to house an ever-expanding aging population of big cats here. So where do they go?
On the website they ask for donations to build ‘a more natural setting’ for them to retire to. But don’t mention where they are going now. Only that they must be isolated from each other to prevent fighting.
Caged in isolation 24 hours a day. Wherever they are, they’re no longer bringing in tourism money. So how do they pay their way?
Join The Breeding Programme
6 – 18 months after separation the females will reach sexual maturity. Males will then mature one year later.
When a mother’s litter is removed she will be able to another one within five months. This steps up production from one litter every 2.5 years in the wild, to six litters every 2.5 years in captivity.
But why would they want to? Let’s do the maths:
‘Smallest’ are worth 1000 TBH / Per Person. They’re visited for 10-15 mins by groups of about 5 tourists. So each slot makes 5000 TBH. Open times are 9am to 6pm so they could cram in 36 slots. That’s 180000 TBH, or $5,050 a day. Litters are usually 4 cubs, but can go up to 7 in captivity.
So a litter of four cubs could be worth up to $20,200 a day. Breeding is big business. But this goldmine starts depreciating after 2 months, so they must keep them coming.
Tiger Kingdom’s Chief Customer Relations Officer Pim knows farming a tiger and constantly removing her cubs is cruel:
What else can we do though? We can’t release them into the wild. The truth is there is no income and no provisions to take care of them otherwise, so we need to do this.
The logic in this statement is laughable.
Why can’t you release them? Because they’ve been hand reared in captivity.
What are you going to do? Hand rear more in captivity.
Why can’t you afford their care? They don’t earn any money after 2.5 years.
What are you going to do? Make more.
Yes, tiger cubs are big business. But if they loose their value at 2.5 years old, then live for another 17.5 years the business model doesn’t work. Tiger Kingdom owns a rapidly expanding population of adults. They all need feeding, housing and vet care. But don’t earn any tourist money. So what do they do with them all? Especially once they’ve served their time on the production line?
The Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) is supposed to prevent illegal trading and trafficking. All tigers born in captivity in Thailand must be registered and microchipped so the DNP can monitor them.
But if Tiger Temples history is anything to go by, the DNP is either incapable or corrupt:
December 2014 – Three adult male tigers go missing.
February 2015 – The Tiger Temple vet confesses the three tigers had their microchips cut out.
April 2015 – Raid confirms three tigers are missing. Also finds 13 tigers with no microchips and a carcass in the freezer.
April 2015 – DNP plans to seize all 147 tigers.
May 2015 – DNP suddenly retracts their decision.
January 2016 – Cee4life releases the ‘Tiger Temple Report‘. Evidence from a nine year investigation proving tigers have been illegally brought into, and taken out of, Tiger Temple.
Today – Despite everything, Tiger Temple remains open.
At this point there is no official evidence for illegal trading at Tiger Kingdom. But with no where else for adults to go, a corrupt system and high demand for tiger parts. It’s not surprising Freeland reports it happens all too often.
Whether Americans want a ~quirky~ pet, or the growing Chinese middle class want to use traditional medicine as a status symbol. There is a LOT of demand for tigers:
Bones for tiger wine
Skin for rugs
Penis for tiger penis soup
Eyes to cure epilepsy and malaria
Bile to cure convulsions in children
Blood for willpower
Brain to cure laziness and pimples
Claws to cure sleeplessness
Fat to cure dog bites, vomiting and hemorrhoids
Flesh to cure nausea and malaria
Feet to ward off evil spirits
Fur burnt to drive away centipedes
Nose leather to cure bites
Skin to cure fever caused by ghosts and mental illness
Stomach to cure stomach upsets
Teeth to cure rabies, asthma, and genital sores
Whiskers to cure tooth ache
Tail to cure skin diseases
YOU CAN HELP END TIGER ABUSE
Tourists don’t realize the cute cubs they cuddle will quickly grow and be butchered for traditional medicine.
Time to stop supplying the illegal wildlife trade, and start fighting it!
Want to be a more responsible traveler?
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