Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Petting Tigers and Riding Elephants...Humane?

So as I mentioned in my last post, we did two super touristy things while in Chiang Mai.  The first was visit Tiger Kingdom and the second was supposed to be a trip to the Elephant Nature Park however, I never had time to book our spot so the park we originally wanted to visit was booked full.  After freaking out and almost changing our flight to make it work, we decided to just try a different elephant place which may or may not have been a mistake.

I'll start with our thoughts on Tiger Kingdom.  They claim on their website that the tigers are not drugged, and there hasn't been any sort of leak stating that their claims are false, so we decided to give it a go.  Andrew was veryyyyy hesitant about going because he felt like the tigers had to be drugged for people to be able to be in there with them, but I really wanted to do it so he said we could go. You had the option of playing with either the small babies, older babies, mid-sized tigers, and adult tigers.  The chick at the counter said we were more than welcome to watch the tigers for a while before deciding, so after checking out the few that we were allowed to watch for free, we determined that the baby tigers were the least likely to be drugged so we went for those. We had a bit of a wait before it was our turn so we walked around and checked out all of the other tigers. At that point, we began to question how humane this place really was.  A lot of the larger tigers were in small cages alone, which was really disheartening. Something you didn't see before paying.  We were hoping they would have had some large area for the tigers to roam or something - but nope.

When it was our turn to play with the babies, I will admit it was an amazing experience. They were really playful and loved playing with each other. It was quite hard to snap a good photo because they were so rambunctious which made me pretty happy to see that at least these guys weren't drugged.  Their fur was so was pretty much like playing with a large cat (like you would have guessed).  I think our overall conclusion was that though it was an amazing once in a lifetime experience, but we would leave it at that, once in a lifetime.  It is a strange situation because these poor animals don't really have an option. Out in the wild, they are caught and killed. However, being in a zoo or in this case, a petting zoo, really isn't that much better. So I guess it's up for you to decide what you think is best. If you go to zoo's you can probably handle this, but I wish they would have at least had some education on tigers and some more space for the bigger tigers...especially since they rake in so much money...but oh well.  

The next day was our day with the elephants at Baanchang Elephant Park. We started out feeling really good about it because the reviews were really good online and the company seemed to be pretty humane. They did have a disclaimer about how they used bull hooks on the elephants (which are the things animal cruelty people shout about) but they said they were only in case of emergency because the elephants are out in the open and can easily hurt someone if frightened (understandable). We showed up and got changed in to their little outfits then went to meet the elephants. We were in a smaller group of about 10 people and everyone in the group was really nice.  First we got to feed the elephants bananas and sugar cane which was really cool. They gave us some education on the elephants and the tour guide for the group, Jimmy, was fantastic. The elephants were all chained up at the foot which made us feel a bit sad but we were told it was for our protection because all of them are very greedy with the food, trying to snatch others, so it made sense.  Because man were they greedy haha...

After feeding them we learned how to ride them bareback which was awesome and MUCH better for them than those big chair things you can ride on them with.  After that we went on a little trek around the park and Andrew and I shared an elephant, taking turns being in the front. I was hoping we were going to see a big open space that they let them out when it's not feeding time, but no...turned out they were chained most of the day because a lot of them aren't "friends" so it isn't safe to allow them all out together. So that made us a bit sad. We all went in a big line and each elephants mahout (basically their trainer) came with them, standing next to them to make sure they were good. Most of the mahouts had a fantastic relationship with their elephant. You could see that they really loved them and bonded with them. Unlucky for us, we got stuck with the jerk. He seemed to be really mad at his elephant, yelling at her and threatening her with his bull hook when she went out of line. It made us both really uncomfortable...and then at one point he even took out a knife and threatened it. It was so weird because all of the other mahouts were really good to their elephants. Our elephant was one of the oldest, 40 years old, and she was pretty grumpy, but it was still no excuse for the mahouts behavior. Kind of soured the experience a bit for us.

After walking around, we got to bathe the elephant...Andrew did it because he wanted to give the elephant a bit of love, but after all of our mahouts yelling and threatening, I felt uncomfortable so I stayed back.  When it was all over, Andrew had a talk with Jimmy about our elephants mahout. At one point Jimmy said that they prided themselves on having great mahouts that never threaten their elephants with the bull we felt he needed to know.  He did seem to take the issue seriously which was good - and said he would talk to his boss. Fingers crossed the jerk got fired. When we were leaving we got to see a really adorable site.  We got to see the mahouts take the baby elephants and their mommys for their afternoon swim! Oh my were they so cute and happy. Made me feel better about our experience because most of the trainers there really did seem to love their elephants.

In conclusion, I think I would say stay away from those two attractions. Everyone says to go to the Elephant Nature Park if you want a good humane experience and I think that's probably your best bet. Just make sure that you book in advance because they do sell out - even on a Monday during the off season.  I wouldn't say we regret going to either, but I would say that we have mixed feelings. Yes we got to pet a tiger, yes we got to ride an elephant, but I think its better to donate funds towards a real conservation effort that has the animals best interest at heart. These groups were saving the animals from "worser fates" but they definitely made a pretty penny off of it...

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