I have always dreamed of becoming a veterinarian, or at least of having my own pet farm, where I can gather a variety of animals I could hug all day. As a pet lover I was always attracted by opportunities to meet and hug different animals. On my last visit to Thailand I decided to make a research on the very popular tiger hugging attractions.
There are few places where you can meet with this majestic animal, to take your photo and to hug it. The most famous are the Tiger Temple in Bangkok, the Tiger Kingdom in Chiang Mai and the Koh Samui Aquarium and Tiger Zoo. Unfortunately most of them have unclear image and it is said that the animals in this kind of places are being drugged, abused and kept in small cages.
In my recent trip to Koh Samui I decided to visit the Koh Samui Aquarium and Tiger Zoo and to see for myself, in what condition the tigers were kept. I will lie if I say that I wasn’t attracted by the idea to hold a real tiger in my hands! I was a bit anxious to go there, after I went through so many negative reviews online.
If you are visiting Koh Samui, there are various of agencies that will be more than happy to take your money and to get you to the tiger zoo, but this will cost you. As a budged traveler I made my own way to the Koh Samui Aquarium and Tiger Zoo and I managed to save 900 Baht or $30. I went there by taxi from Lamai beach, that cost me 250 Baht, and went back to the hotel by a songthaew for 100 Baht.
Once there I had the options of visiting the zoo and aquarium or going only for the picture with the tiger. The zoo doesn’t have that much of animal variety and the only entertainment they offer, apart from seeing animals being kept in small, smelly cages, are the cruel animal shows. I opted for the second option as I wanted to see the tigers only.
The entry was priced at 600 Baht per person, and 900 Baht for two. I was forwarded to a second reception counter where I paid and I was asked to choose between a big, mature tiger, or a baby one. I wanted to take a picture with the baby tiger.
I followed the receptionist and on my way to the tiger cages I saw a variety of posters saying how the money you spent will help preserve the tigers and how this will also make their life better. I wasn’t so sure about that and I wasn’t ready for what I saw next.
I was brought to two small cages. In the bigger one there was a mature tiger, who was just standing there, appearing like nothing else but a statue. It wasn’t moving, just staring in the empty space in front of him. This was a really painful image, but I wasn’t sure if this was due to the hot weather or because it was given something. Not only his cage was really small, but it was only covered in tiles and placed to the noisy restaurant area. Next to it was the second cage, even smaller, in which the baby tiger lived.
Upon my arrival there, the two keepers started giving out orders, rushing me, like there was another hundred people on a queue behind me. I was said to sit down and I got a bottle of really hot milk. One of the keepers got my camera ready, while the second one opened the cage.
The baby tiger immediately jumped on the bench where I was sitting and started to suckle from the milk bottle. In this very moment I felt how warm the tiger was, and how soft his fur was. We were just standing there, for few seconds, that lasted a century. The keeper was trying to make it take a certain pose and the tiger growled in answer, as he just wanted to get some milk.
After they got my picture done, the tiger was dragged back to its cage and locked, while the milk bottle was ripped off his paws. The keepers rushed to some other place and I didn’t get to opportunity to ask them even about the sex of the cub.
I felt really bad and selfish for doing this and I still have mixed feeling about this whole idea. If nobody goes there to take pictures with the tigers, they will be put to sleep, but by going there and paying you just promote the cruelty to these animals.
I am not surprised that this kind of attractions are promoted heavily, when I see in what kind of world we live in. A selfish and destructive world, where we place ourselves on a pedestals from which we reach and take whatever we believe is ours.
If you are wondering whether you should go there or not, I am not the person to tell you what is right. I went there and sadly witnessed how badly one animal can be treated, an animal that deserves to roam free. I don’t recommend the Koh Samui Aquarium and Tiger Zoo to very sensitive people.
If you want to get really close to a tiger, you can also do it in South Africa, where there are many farms and reserves, where you can see the real difference in taking care after an animal, with your whole heart.