Volunteering at Tiger Temple: Getting Bitten By My First Tiger

DSC09115 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.

Good morning

Good morning

 

Tiger Temple Volunteering: The early morning duty

 

In the afternoon

In the afternoon

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.

In the morning before being fed

Yeap, that is about right.

Yeah, just try to tear them apart

Yeah, just try to get them to walk.

The Tiger Volunteer Rite of Passage: My First Tiger Bite

I must conquer my fear of the tiger

I must conquer my fear of the tiger

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.

Note: these tigers are innocent. And are the much smaller versions of the ferocious beast who bite me

Note: these tigers are innocent. And are the much smaller versions of the ferocious beast who bite me

I had survived my first tiger bite. I was now officially a tiger volunteer.

Mission Impossible: Walking Tiger Cubs

This is not as easy as it looks

As you can see from my very serious face, this is not as easy as it looks.

Walking a tiger gives a whole new meaning to the expression: Herding cats

Walking a tiger gives a whole new meaning to the expression: Herding cats

The Tiger Temple Morning Program: Tigers meet Buddhism

A monk feeds a tiger

A monk feeds a tiger

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).

Tourist prepare for their "morning program"

Tourist prepare for their “morning program”

Monks selecting food

Monks selecting food

Monks eating

Monks eating

the buffet before

the buffet before

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.

And Turner doesn't stand a chance against the ferocious Thais

…And Turner doesn’t stand a chance against the ferocious Thais

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.

The sala cats wait the tourists

The sala cats wait the tourists

Waiting chained to the perimeter

Waiting chained to the perimeter

Relaxed waiting

Relaxed waiting

Over it

Over it

tiger temple

Waiting on the sala stage

Waiting on the sala stage

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Tourists can feed the cubs in the morning program

Tourists can feed the cubs in the morning program. And I am pretty sure he is full.

Think he is full too

Think he is full too.

 

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.

 

2 weeks

2 weeks

Bottle feeding baby tigers

Bottle feeding baby tigers

A baby is put on the head of a tourist for a photo opp

A baby is put on the head of a tourist for a photo opp

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

Turner barr
turnerbarr@gmail.com

Hi, my name is Turner. I travel the world, hustle to find interesting jobs, and write about what happens when you read too many self-help books.

15 Comments
  • Brandon
    Posted at 18:00h, 18 September

    Just recently liked your facebook page out of the blue, Great work you’re a really good writer, always capture my attention love to read all the way to the finish of all the blogs. Keep up the blogging about the tigers looking forward to hearing more!

    • Turner
      Posted at 10:31h, 20 September

      Thanks Brandon. I appreciate it man.

  • BakoymaTravels
    Posted at 23:47h, 18 September

    “the cubs treat me like most women: with mild neglect, whinnying, and running away”

    Thanks for making laugh, yet again, Turner ;-D And thanks for sharing your experiences, good luck with the tigers!

    • Turner
      Posted at 18:17h, 20 September

      🙂

  • Ann-Katrin
    Posted at 00:15h, 19 September

    Hi,
    recently found your blog, I have never much liked the tiger temples as there are so many that are just for tourists where the tigers don’t seem to be happy – but I LOVED this post and the pics of the animals. The video is really charming – and Thailand is such a fascinating country. I was visiting a rescue centre for elephants close to Chang Mai a few years ago and that was one of my best experiences – I am seriously contemplating going back to volounteer at some point, but first thing first – I just moved to TAiwan to learn chinese.
    Thanks again for the inspiration!

  • Giselle and Cody
    Posted at 04:23h, 20 September

    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.

    They did not answer your question.

    In the wild Tiger cubs are entirely dependent on their mothers care for up to two years.
    So taking them away from their mothers after two weeks is in our opinion cruel.

    Are you still volunteering there? Curious to know what your views are.

    • Turner
      Posted at 10:42h, 20 September

      She did not answer the question.

      Yes, tiger cubs are capable of leaving the mother at 18 months, but do not usually leave until 24-30 months in the wild.

      I am releasing my posts from the experience and what I learned day by day, but am trying to play catch up.

  • Mona
    Posted at 10:16h, 20 September

    it looks like the best job ever!

  • RV
    Posted at 04:39h, 21 September

    Hey, you seemed to have had a wonderful time with the big cats. I’m now simply tempted to go there. Thanks for the post! 🙂

  • Casi @HeyNoobz
    Posted at 09:18h, 23 September

    I never got a chance to play with Tigers while in Thailand. To tell you the truth, I was a little scared to. Hard to imagine with all those cute little cubs. Maybe I’ll have to give it a chance next time I’m there.

    • Turner
      Posted at 15:30h, 25 September

      Honestly, perhaps the most of the volunteers, I was not nearly as comfortable around the tigers. The cubs grow on you and you get used to it, but overall . Maybe I am just a dog person.

  • Partial Parallax
    Posted at 18:51h, 23 September

    Very interesting read and what looks like an amazing experience. Working with the tigers I’m sure was a lot of hard work but it also seems greatly rewarding also.
    Well written and interesting piece with some great pictures!

  • Does Tiger Temple Drug Tigers?
    Posted at 15:26h, 24 September

    […] through my first official, full day volunteering at Tiger Temple and I had already experienced my first tiger bite, had a tiger take me for a walk on a leash, and learned I would have to fight Thai people on a […]

  • Free Volunteering in Thailand: Tiger Temple daily chores
    Posted at 12:36h, 30 September

    […] when it is free volunteering in Thailand. Every day the volunteers at Tiger Temple are tasked with bringing the tiger cubs to the sala (temple) where they meet the eager tourist hordes in the morning. My first day I had to walk a four month […]

  • Robert
    Posted at 22:42h, 04 October

    Great article! I love your site.