Pure power. Pure, unbounded, unmeasured, feline power rippled beneath the tawny pelt. The feel of a tiger was not something I thought I would ever testify to… but here, I was watching and feeling it firsthand.
For 750 Thai baht, you can spend fifteen minutes with two four-hundred pound, four-year-old, Bengal tigers, which, you might have guessed, are rather large for their age. (Attention all L.B. Graham fans!). I was eager to meet face to face with some of the largest of the tigers at Tiger Kingdom of Chiang Mai, Thailand.
I now recall, long ago, I went on a school trip to a feline zoo in the States. It hadn’t been especially memorable, except for that they let us touch a swatch of lion fur… Oh, how this would rival that one hundred-fold.
One of the first employees I saw had a subtle, but large and unusual scar beneath his left eye. What do you think? Good sign?
We were shown to the commodious cage that the two tigers occupied and soon, we entered. There was an electric fence keeping the tigers away from the door. The man gently guided the tiger who met him at the electric fence toward a podium. He had him sit and then motioned for us to approach.
If you haven’t guessed already, we got some cool pictures.
The two limber giants were more active in eventide, I was told, and active seemed to be a fitting word as I watched them bound around the enclosure with infinite power and stealth. But surreptitious is a far more suiting word. Long striations of black caressed the tan notoriously-orange of the Bengal tiger and the lines undulated as the impressive limbs churned. They were ninja silent—but assassin deadly… maybe more so.
Dagger sharp claws the size of razor blades hid beneath padded paws. And the scorpion-stinger shaped teeth were more deadly than even the most venomous sting. The maw that held the foray of fangs was larger than my head, and I have no doubt that it could cave my skull in like you can a tomato. They were massive. If there are words that can capture the size and magnitude of the twin Bengal tigers, I don’t know them. It was like the first time I saw a commercial jet. It’s so much bigger than it looks on a screen. Nothing can prepare you for the presence and power of a tiger.
The two fought every morning from what I heard, and I am sure it would be a sight to behold. I asked if they had ever attacked anyone, and the man quickly told me no.
I was standing toward the front of one tiger when the other ran behind my back with the smoothness that can be likened to that of a flying carpet. Seamless strokes propelled it by without alerting any of my senses. All I saw was just a blur of color when it was past. If that feline decided that it didn’t like me—my hairstyle or whatever—Bang. Blood. I’m dead.
But they had no harm in mind.
As if they were monstrosities of house cats, instead of fierce hunters, the two brothers were fiercely playful. They bounded around the cage with gentle agility, leaping, pouncing, and chasing after strips of greenery tied to bamboo poles. With decisive power and many of their antics mirroring those of house cats, they pursued those fronds as the two Thai men masterfully played them.
Whatever they pay those guys, it’s not nearly enough.
It was an absolutely awesome experience to be in an enclosure with, and touching the flesh of, tigers. One I know I will never forget.
Tiger Kingdom also had a ‘Mini Zoo’ which proved almost better than the tigers. Though it was relatively small, it was packed with miniature habitats. Happy little animals including meercats, prairie dogs, jungle fowl with three-foot-long tails, Patagonian Maras (Extra reader points if you can come up with a movie quote with Patagonia in it. Fun fact, Patagonia consists of the very tip of Argentina. The Mara looks like a petite deer and a jackrabbit at the same time.), an extremely friendly rabbit (I promise, she didn’t mean to bite me), pygmy goats the size of tomcats, and three-month-old not-so-giant giant tortoises.
The Tiger Kingdom was awesome. It was a place where the animals were tame, but just wild enough to keep you on your toes and keep it fun.
So, here’s the question. Would you risk being mauled for the experience of touching a live tiger?