Thailand: Spending a day with tigers
Poachers had killed the female tiger but left the new-born cub to fend for itself. Passing villagers found it whimpering in the bush and decided to take it to the newly established temple near Kanchanaburi, Thailand. Little did the Buddhist monks realize that they were embarking on a unique venture in 1994 with that very first orphan: today, the “Tiger Temple” is home to approx. 55 Indo-Chinese big cats and countless other animals.
Whether it can be called an animal sanctuary, petting zoo or conservation program is a matter of opinion – and every visitor will experience it differently. For cat lovers, seeing and handling these big felines is definitely an unforgettable experience: to pet these wild animals and sense the muscular build under the fairly coarse fur is surely a dream come true.
Different visiting programs are offered: the “early morning” includes feeding the youngest cubs – giving a milk bottle to a three-month old, playing with the teenagers in a large, sandy field with home-made toys and watching them cavort happily in a man-made water basin. The (considerably less expensive) afternoon program includes picture taking with the biggest of the animals, walking alongside them to the Tiger Canyon and seeing them at play in yet another water basin.
Although the Wat Pa Luang Ta Maha Bua is a fully operational Buddhist temple, it is the local staff and volunteers (mostly from Europe or the United States) that the visitor will get to intract with. It is they who control and direct the tourists around and generally make sure that both visitor and cat don’t get in trouble with each other. The monks, in their flowing saffron-colored robes, show themselves in the afternoon, walking the big cats.
Over the past few years, a new Tiger Island has been readied: a large, moat-bound area will give each animal generous space to freely roam in, while allowing visitors to view the cats from flyover pedestrian walkways. Much has been written about the implementation of these plans – why it has been taking so long to build, how the considerable income from the tourist programs has been used, how have the animals been kept in the meantime, whether this smoothly run commercial operation can still be called a temple, etc. Every visitor will have unique opinions and memories of this very special place, which can be enjoyed as a day trip from Bangkok.
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