When I visited the Tiger Temple just outside of Bangkok, I was left with a niggling feeling in my tummy. I love animals; I’ve been on safari, I’ve owned a menagerie of well-loved pets and I donate to WWF each month. So the idea of visiting a tiger orphanage owned by some kindly monks seemed like a great idea.
I don’t know what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn’t what I got.
As we approached the tiger enclosure we were prepped by a local guide in a baby pink shirt. Yelling commandments at us over the looming crowd, all I heard were a few snatched words about camera etiquette.
Unable to see over the mass of tourists, I wasn’t sure what was coming next.
Within minutes, though, we were herded through to a row of queues and ushered along like cattle. One moment I was with Georgie, my travel buddy, and the next we’d been separated, my camera had been taken off me, and I’d been pulled over to the first tiger by my arm.
Lying before me was a big ginger mass. I know that’s not a very regal or majestic way to describe the animal, but it had completely lost its luster. Sprawled dopily across the sandy floor, the tiger didn’t even look like it was sleeping. It’s lolling eyes and droopy lids gave it a sad, confused appearance. I was convinced it was drugged.
Told to sit by the beast, my hand was plonked on its haunches, I was told to smile, and snap, my photo had been taken and it was time to move on.
Next, I was pushed down next to three tigers draped over a rock. Led from tiger to tiger, it was like playing a game of joining the dots, only far less fun.
Pushed out of the enclosure, my camera literally thrown back at me, we were left… stumped. There’s no other way to describe it.
Since that day, I’ve heard different things about why the tigers are so sedated. Is it drugs? Is it the heat of the midday sun? I’ve heard tales from both sides, and to be honest, I just don’t know.
But what I do know is that I won’t be going back.