18 Sep Volunteering at Tiger Temple: Getting Bitten By My First Tiger
Today was my first official full day volunteering at Tiger Temple. My day began rising at 7am, stepping outside my room, and discovering that I am in fact, living in a zoo. My late night visit from a creepy goat was followed up with wild hogs, deer and water buffalo as I showered up, mentally braced myself for the day to come and marched up the hill.
Tiger Temple Volunteering: The early morning duty
The first daily duty when volunteering at Tiger Temple is getting the tiger cubs up and ready for their tourist debut. One of the perks of volunteering at Tiger Temple is getting to hang out with the cubs on a regular basis without packs of tourists getting all grabby. However, like getting young, reluctant kids ready to go to school, the morning mission is marked by pooping, assholish defiance and more pooping. Unlike the afternoons in the cub cages, where the cubs are adorably playful or completely comatose from rounds of bottle-feeding, in the morning prior to getting fed, the cubs are hyperactive and smelly from rolling around in their own excrement. Despite their pungent smell, I attempted to sit down with them to have a petting and bonding moment but soon discovered that the cubs treat me like most women: with mild neglect, whinnying, and running away.
The Tiger Volunteer Rite of Passage: My First Tiger Bite
I decided to enter the larger cubs cage to work on feeling less apprehensive and anxious around the tigers. I still was feeling a bit tentative to say the least just being at Tiger Temple, much less actually handling tigers, even if they were the smaller ones. However, if I was going to be volunteering at Tiger Temple for a month, I would need to feel at ease around the tigers. As I entered the cage, I noticed an older cub on her back playing with a toy. I turned my focus to the cub, a smile gracing my face taking in the cuteness that lay before me, completely unaware that I was being stalked by a tiger. When tigers are on the hunt, they lean down, focusing on their prey with their back arched, anticipating their victim’s next move as they wait for the right moment to strike. As I looked down admiring the cub in front of me, I felt the clamp of a tiger’s jaw on my arm. I frantically swung around and tried to push the tiger off my arm to no avail. A firm clap of my hand against the tiger’s nose set my arm free. The tiger cub’s teeth however, were still enjoying my shirt. Luckily, my trusty volunteer shirt was as thick as a parka and quite tiger resistant. I looked over the bite area on my arm and saw teeth indentures, a slight bruise area, and a tiny trickle of blood forming.
I had survived my first tiger bite. I was now officially a tiger volunteer.
Mission Impossible: Walking Tiger Cubs
The Tiger Temple Morning Program: Tigers meet Buddhism
The mornings at Tiger Temple start with the “morning program”. Basically, tourists who pay 5,000 baht ($167) – get to experience the entire Tiger Temple tiger offering, from cub feeding to cub exercise programs to watching the adult tiger exercise/evening program, except with the added bonus of joining the monks in the temple for some Buddhist prayers and “breakfast”, which as it turns out is more of a free for all dining experience (see: survival of the fittest).
The monks only eat what the local community donates each day, then the tourists eat what is left followed by the staff and volunteers. However, once the tourists are done selecting their food, the onslaught of savagery begins. In American terms, it is akin to a Black Friday sale with only 5 Tickle-Me Elmos left and 100 desperate parents. It is something like this, except as a non-Thai you are severely handicapped in the event as the food comes in little plastic bags and by the time a caucasian gentleman like myself figures out what is inside a given bag, the table looks like the carnival just left.
Prior to the breakfast melee, the tourists all flood the Sala (temple’s main floor) and have the opportunity to take photos with the medium sized tigers chained to the outer wall of the Sala and the tiger cubs and babies roaming around the center of the room. They also get the chance to bottle feed the babies. It is kind of a weird scene if you think about it, as seeing a dozen tigers chained to the wall is sad.
So how old are these little ones [baby tiger cubs] being brought out here?
Oh they are two weeks old.
Isn’t that pretty young to be bringing them around the tourists? What age do they leave their mother in the wild?
Well – tigers are solitary animals. So they don’t really have that bond with their young. In the wild they only stay with their mother the until they can hunt on their own.
This caught me off guard a bit, as 2 weeks old seemed quite young to be taken away from their mother, even if they don’t have such a loving, lifelong relationship instinct, but it also seemed a pretty young age to be around humans, particularly of the goo-goo-ga-ga, annoying tourist variety. But what did I know? It was my first real day volunteering at Tiger Temple, what in this entire equation constituted normal? My first day had only just begun and I had already been bitten by my first tiger, been walked by a tiger, and learned that I must fight Thai people for food I wished to eat. The day couldn’t have gotten stranger, that is until I saw the video. #tigertemple