As if Thailand’s southern tropical destinations weren’t already suffering in the world’s press enough, this week Phuket haters got something new to cheer about: an Australian tourist was mauled by one of the exhibits at the local version of Tiger Kingdom. The man, who was bitten on the legs and stomach, says he was riding an elephant earlier in the day and thinks the lingering scents may have contributed to the tiger’s actions, not unlike what may happen if you off a bar boy early in the evening and then a ladyboy later that night. Because Aussies are known as good sports – okay, Aussies are known as drunks, but most drunks are good sports – the victim was concerned the tiger would be put down now that it’s known as a man-eater. Officials at Tiger Kingdom scoffed at the idea of lost profits from killing off the attraction of their attraction and assured the man the tiger would instead be ‘retired’. Which is Thai for ‘given a new name.’ Responding to the incident, the police report they have identified the tiger in question and want the world to know it is a tiger from Myanmar, and not one from Thailand.
It seems whenever visitor counts are low one of the kingdom’s tiger attractions makes the news with a story about the latest tourist playing the role of cat food. Not surprisingly, it’s always an Aussie. Okay, so once it was a woman from New Zealand, but Thai tigers like the rest of the world assume those are both the same country. You’d think that an attraction that allows humans to molest wild animals one-on-one would be perfectly safe, but considering all the bar boy who done me wrong stories out there, obviously tourists are quickly headed towards becoming an endangered species. But then the only tourists in danger are those stupid enough to believe that if they’ve paid 500 baht, playing with a tiger that its handlers insist is not drugged is perfectly safe. And that ladies and gentlemen is Darwinism at work.
I encountered my first tiger to be petted in Thailand several decades ago at a crocodile farm just outside of Bangkok. You’ll note that as popular as the opportunity of getting close to an animal that you shouldn’t is, that photo op of you sticking your head in a croc’s mouth just doesn’t exist. But there was a tiger on downers for you to take what may become your final selfie with, and being the brave soul that I am I immediately suggested my buddy Dave smile for the camera. And he did. On reflection, my recent decision to upgrade Dave to boyfriend status over Phil may have benefited from a few more trips down memory lane first. But then since Dave and I will soon be in Thailand again and he’s not yet had the chance of visiting Chiang Mai’s Tiger Kingdom, so Phil may still have a shot at the title.
Noom and I visited that attraction just after it opened several years ago. There were lots of signs posted warning against all the things you should not do when playing with a tiger. Playing with a tiger should have been one of them, but then there’s no money in that. Not cautious enough to stay outside of the cage, I was nonetheless cautious in my approach, and ready at all times to show just how quickly an aging farang can scale a chain link fence at the first sign of trouble. Noom, on the other hand, immediately set to violating every rule posted. And the tigers loved him. Polite enough to not mention that the only creature in that cage that day acting like a pussy was yours truly, later Noom summed up why he seemed so unconcerned about what could have happened with one of his favorite standard explanations: “Because I Thai.” I think when we visit Tiger Kingdom with Dave I’m gonna take Noom to ride an elephant first.
One of the problems Tiger Kingdom faces is that tigers are in fact an endangered species. If you don’t believe that, take a trip to Bangkok’s amulet market by the Grand Palace on any weekend and check out all of the tiger parts available for sale. (Tiger claws, by the way, make for a cool souvenir. Better yet, when you buy them by the paw they run less than ten bucks a piece and you can sell them back home for $100 per claw.) Those tigers that didn’t make it to the amulet market yet, are a natural for Tiger Kingdom but the competition for tigers to profit off is fierce in Thailand. That means the attraction often has to make due with its current horde. And tigers, like sexpats, tend to get grumpy as they age.
Young(er) tigers are safe(r) tigers to unleash on the public with more baht in their pocket than brains in their head. By the time they hit puberty (the tigers, not the touri) they become a bit too aggressive and when they aren’t getting any like to take their frustrations out on the closest moving object. Especially slow moving ones like drunk Aussie tourists. On our first visit to Tiger Kingdom, the attraction was still new, and so were the tigers. A few years later we hit the Kingdom again, with some lesbians in tow, and the tigers were not as happy to see us. The handlers were pretty bored by their jobs by then too and rather than keeping a close eye on their charges opted to take their own frustrations out on the tigers. While insisting your best photo op was to mount a tiger from its back. There’s a good reason tigers are not generally known as the bottoms of the animal world. Even when the staff has slipped a few roofies in their breakfast.
Hindsight being what it is, we’d mistakenly scheduled the lesbians’ opportunity to ride an elephant later in the day. And bloodlust being what it is, assume that at least the two who were actual women were not menstruating during our visit either. Noom, being what he is, immediately stuck his face in the face of a tiger as soon as we entered the first enclosure (even though that particular tiger was a lion). No problemo. The lions were a new attraction and were still young ‘uns who’d not yet learned just how dangerous tourists can be. The tigers, not so much. They were a bit older, a bit wiser, a bit hungry looking. And they were moving. The staff had evidently not yet learned you need to adjust their medication as they grow. Or maybe they were just smart enough to not want to get that close to a wild tiger. I noticed even Noom was encouraging others in the group to get up close and personal rather than hogging the spotlight as is his wont.
But pussy is pussy and the lesbians needed little encouragement to stick their face in one. The little gay boy was a bit more circumspect. But then being a bottom himself, maybe it was just his unfamiliarity with being on top. Before I could come up with a good excuse to pass on the experience – I thought ‘I already posed for that photo op’ might do the trick – the tiger showed one of its better talents by using its teeth to destroy a coconut that had been too stupid to stay out of the cage. You’d think tiger teeth would be more popular at the amulet market. With a dead coconut rolling at our feet, we all decided we didn’t want to be late for our elephant ride.
There was a speed boat accident down south this week too; several tourists will never get their chance to stare down a tiger in person. As Thai officialdom likes to do after someone has died thanks to the Thai version of capitalism, they are now passing new legislation regarding speed boat tour safety. No one has made a whisper about new regulations regarding Australians paying to be mauled by a tiger. Maybe if their womenfolk would stop having their hair corn-rolled when on holiday in SE Asia, there’d be more of an outcry over damaged Aussies.
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