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Mae Rim District, Thailand

Chiang Mai Tiger Kingdom

A wildlife sanctuary in Thailand invites visitors to pet some of nature's deadliest killers. 

Thailand’s ‘Tiger Kingdom’ is a big cat sanctuary located roughly 10 miles from the northern city of Chiang Mai. Marketed as a conservation centre, it’s perhaps better known as the place where tourists are able to pose for photos with some of planet earth’s most perfect killing machines.

South East Asia still suffers from widespread tiger hunting, a trade with an estimated worth of $6 million a year. With wild tiger populations in risk, ethical zoos, parks and sanctuaries are considered to be an important part of the conservation effort. Tiger Kingdom states its aims as sharing greater understanding about these big cats, as well as helping to preserve breeding populations; most of the cats here are Indo-China tigers, but other specimens come from Bengal and Sumatra.

The tigers are divided into four categories: newborn cubs, small tigers, medium and big cats. Entry prices vary according to size, starting from 420 Baht (about $13) for 15 minutes locked in an enclosure with one of the massive adult tigers.

While that might sound more like a death sentence than something you’d ever actually want to do, it does seem to be pretty safe. You’ll see tourists snapping their next profile picture at Tiger Kingdom, snuggling up next to a 230kg adult male. There are even photos floating around the Internet of people planking on these big cats (no kidding, check out the proof).

You’d be forgiven for asking the obvious question: shouldn’t these people be getting eaten? There are several possible answers to this, and the site’s critics will tell you that these cats are drugged in order to render them more docile.

However, Tiger Kingdom markets itself on the ethical treatment of these creatures, as illustrated by countless notices and information panels around the site. The case they make is that tigers are typically nocturnal hunters; they get particularly docile in the hot Thai sun, sleeping as much as 18 hours per day, and don’t attack unless threatened… or hungry.

Promotional material for Tiger Kingdom states that their cats are fed well overnight, before enjoying ‘play time’ with the other tigers – which ensures that by the time guests arrive, they’re worn out, content, and far too relaxed to do much more than bat an eyelid. This is not true, however, as the tigers are sedated and drugged and have had their claws surgically removed.

Know Before You Go

Located 10 miles north of Chiang Mai, the easiest way to reach Tiger Kingdom is by taxi. Tour operators also run regular bus services.