Getting to Work at Tiger Temple: Welcome to Tiger Island

Working at Tiger Temple - Day 1 Part II

Outfitted in my new, grossly oversized Tiger Temple volunteer shirt, I entered the temple’s grounds. Unlike many who work at the temple, I had never been before, nor did I know of anyone who had volunteered there either. I hadn’t spent much time examining photos online or doing copious amounts of research trying to figure out the entire experience before I walked through the door. I wanted to experience Tiger Temple through my own virgin eyes as much as possible – without all the media white noise.

entrance to tiger temple1 Getting to Work at Tiger Temple: Welcome to Tiger Island

Into the Wild

I wasn’t quite sure how many animals, or what kind of animals besides tigers, were kept at the temple.

ox at tiger temple Getting to Work at Tiger Temple: Welcome to Tiger Island

On the way to my room I found out.

 

cow at tiger temple Getting to Work at Tiger Temple: Welcome to Tiger Island

And this guy

wart hog Getting to Work at Tiger Temple: Welcome to Tiger Island

And one more in front of my room

Unfortunately the previous volunteers did a shit job cleaning up, so we will have to sort it later.

tiger temple meditation Getting to Work at Tiger Temple: Welcome to Tiger Island

The volunteer living quarters (for males, females are down the hill)

My soon to be living quarters were in fact more of a storage room it seemed, coming with complimentary spiders and various other creatures deserving to meet my shoe. We were housed in the old mediation center, which in minimalist Buddhist fashion, was barren and left to grow as it may. I guess I missed the memo about bringing my own inflatable mattress and hazmat suit.

IMG 2312 Getting to Work at Tiger Temple: Welcome to Tiger Island

Just needs a bit of touching up.

 

Ok guys, drop your things. Got to start the day. You can get some mats to sleep on from the temple later.

Welcome to Tiger Island

tiger island at tiger temple Getting to Work at Tiger Temple: Welcome to Tiger Island

Into the Jungle: Tiger Island

It felt like a scene from Jurassic Park. Two massive door swinging open to a new world. Tiger Island is a system of cages and enclosures in the center of the Tiger Temple with a walled perimeter and a skywalk above it. Cage by cage we went deep into Tiger Island as the volunteer coordinator gave us an overview of the park. As of writing this, there are 122 tigers at Tiger Temple. Tigers are solitary animals. They rarely stay together in the wild, and once tiger cubs are of age and can fully hunt by themselves (capable at 18 months, but usually at 24-30 months), they go away from the mother to live on their own. The tigers in Tiger Island are sorted into cages, sometimes with up to 5 tigers in a cage. As the coordinator explained:

We sort the tigers based on their demeanor. Some tigers are okay with one another, but aren’t human-friendly. Other tigers are human-friendly, but cannot be around other tigers or they will fight. Some tigers are both human-friendly and tiger-friendly.

DSC06301 Getting to Work at Tiger Temple: Welcome to Tiger Island

3 tigers that can be together

I was in awe at the sheer size of the cats. At up to 670 pounds, tigers are the largest cat species (430 pounds for Indochinese), but my feelings of awe were overshadowed by a deep sense of apprehension at what lay before me. I had only seen tigers before in zoos, and even then, it was usually just one tiger asleep in the far off distance shaded under some canopy. This was something else entirely. What have I gotten myself into? thinking tiger Getting to Work at Tiger Temple: Welcome to Tiger Island

After our brief walk through Tiger Island, we all gathered at what was to be the central meeting point before the main group of tourists come in the afternoons: the Waterfall.

And…at 30 seconds…Yeah, where the hell am I?

Getting to Work at Tiger Temple: The daily assignment

Everyday at Tiger Temple, volunteers rotate daily jobs. There is a set of daily chores in the mornings, and in the afternoon, the duties involve interacting with the tourists. My first day I drew the most hands on duty: tiger cub feeding.

cute tiger baby Getting to Work at Tiger Temple: Welcome to Tiger Island

Feed me…1000 baht

tiger cub at tiger temple Getting to Work at Tiger Temple: Welcome to Tiger Island

Yeah. I know.

 

Tiger Cub Feeding

As I was to quickly discover, tourists who visit Tiger Temple pay a 600 baht ($20) admission fee to enter the park. In addition, there are number of activities that tourists can purchase once inside: tiger cub feeding (1000 baht/$33), tiger cub exercise program (1000 baht/$33), special group photo (1000 baht/$33) and an evening program (500 baht/$16.50). Tiger cub feeding, as the name describes, means you spend the afternoon with the tourists in the tiger cub cages playing and feeding the tiger cubs. There are four 45 minutes sessions with up to 10 tourists in each session. Before we set out to the cub cages, one of the more senior volunteers explained my responsibilities during cub feeding.

tiger in cage Getting to Work at Tiger Temple: Welcome to Tiger Island

Bigger cubs

Basically, there are two sets of cages, with the smaller cubs in one and the bigger cubs in the other. When the tourists come in just have the tourists spread out and instruct them to only pick up the cubs if they are sitting down. Just keep an eye out for them [the tourists] doing anything stupid. If you see someone who needs a photo, offer to take it or let the Thai staff handlers inside do it.

Okay. And what do I do if one of the cubs starts biting someone?

Just give the cub a firm slap on the nose. The little ones shouldn’t be too much trouble. The Thai staff will bring out the bottles with the formula and give them to the tourists. So mainly just explain things and help take photos.

Okay. Sounds easy enough.

Yeah. It can be kind of boring. The bigger cubs though you have to go in the cage with the tourists and instruct them not to kneel down. The cubs will jump on people and their bites can hurt. You may have to smack the cubs in the head to ward them off. They play a lot more.

DSC09340 Getting to Work at Tiger Temple: Welcome to Tiger Island

As we approached the cub cages with excited tourists in tow, I could see the cubs spaced out in the cage, passed out sleeping in various positions. The tourists entered the cage in a gleeful trance. They barely heard instructions or had any questions. They were locked in complete wonderment and anticipation at being able to see and play with tiger cubs. The human condition takes over whenever we see babies or cute animals. Baby voices start being used and people attempt to coddle the cubs in a maternal fashion.

tourists at tiger temple Getting to Work at Tiger Temple: Welcome to Tiger Island

Happy tourists

tourist with cub at tiger temple Getting to Work at Tiger Temple: Welcome to Tiger Island

Tiger love

So how old are these cute little guys?

A tourist asks me.

Well, the small ones here are about 6 weeks old. The ones in the other cage are about 16 weeks old. Can I take use my camera to take photos? Of course, just make sure that the flash is off as the cats are nocturnal and it can hurt their eyes.

It was weird hearing the words come out of my mouth. I had barely been at the temple for a few hours, yet to these tourists, I was an authority on tigers. The tourists generally asked the same questions, so it was easy to parrot off the information I was given at the start of the day. By the time the third session came around I was already fairly well indoctrinated with what questions would be asked and felt fluid when dishing out responses. From time to time I would move a somewhat passed out cub to a tourist who wasn’t getting any attention. I felt a bit nervous moving the cats. It was my first day and I didn’t want screw up, but at the same time, I don’t like molest animals. By the time the fourth and final session of the day came, I could feel by ADD kick in and started to feel a bit bored in the cub cage. The cubs became increasingly more lethargic and docile each session, as they were full from the being bottle-fed formula every session.

DSC06033 Getting to Work at Tiger Temple: Welcome to Tiger Island

Do I look like I want more milk?

cute tiger cubs Getting to Work at Tiger Temple: Welcome to Tiger Island

Totally over it

 

Turner, will you watch the tourists in the larger cubs’ cage please.

Cub Cages Getting to Work at Tiger Temple: Welcome to Tiger Island

A six week old cub looks at his older, 16 week year old cousins next door

I entered the larger cubs cage with a bit more apprehension. While the smaller cubs at 4-6 weeks old were about the size of large house cats, the larger cubs were about the size of medium sized dogs. I hadn’t spent any time with the larger ones yet, so I didn’t have a good sense of how they behaved. In truth, I have never felt extremely comfortable around cats. I am more of a dog person. I have always been hesitant to let my hand nears a cat’s mouth or to pick one up as you never know when they will sink their claws in you or bring out their sharp teeth. Dogs on the other hand, I feel are a bit more predictable.

DSC08994 Getting to Work at Tiger Temple: Welcome to Tiger Island

Sometimes I am calm and look out pondering the meaning of life

DSC08990 Getting to Work at Tiger Temple: Welcome to Tiger Island

However, other times I am a cheeky asshole who wants to bite you

tiger cub chewing bottle Getting to Work at Tiger Temple: Welcome to Tiger Island

Deal with it

Ah excuse me, sir

I looked over and saw a cat gnawing on a tourist.

Shit

I leapt to action and tried to recall what I had been told about how to handle the tigers. I smacked the tiger in the head. Nothing happened. The tiger kept chewing on the tourist. I then hit him a bit firmer on the head and he let go, unfazed.

playing tiger cubs Getting to Work at Tiger Temple: Welcome to Tiger Island

Just being playful

As I finished my first day of work at Tiger Temple and marched back to my mosquito den, I reflected on all that I had seen. My emotions were deeply conflicted, with part of me feeling not only trepidation about working so closely with such dangerous and powerful animals, but also uneasy with the entire scene and how casual everything seemed to be treated. Couldn’t these tigers turn on you at any moment? My feelings of unease ran juxtapose to the excitement and rush I felt at experiencing something so unique. The surrealness had me. I had never seen so many tigers before, and certainly I had never dreamt to be in a situation where you could lay down with such an awesomely powerful and dangerous creature, as if it were nothing more than a giant house cat. I was about to live amongst tigers, lions, bears, water buffalo, wild hogs, Buddhist monks, a forest temple, a compound resembling something out of Jurassic Park, and a creepy goat with disturbing full utters that were about ready to explode. Where was I? Because I certainly was not in Kansas anymore. #tigertemple

strange goat Getting to Work at Tiger Temple: Welcome to Tiger Island

Don’t worry. I am just watching you sleep.

About Turner

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.

16 Responses to Getting to Work at Tiger Temple: Welcome to Tiger Island

  1. Ligeia and Mindy September 18, 2013 at 2:44 am #

    Hi, other than what you included in this post, what abuse did you witness towards the tigers? We have heard reports about tigers being drugged. Did you see any of this?
    Ligeia and Mindy recently posted…Oh Little Town of Bethlehem…My Profile

    • Turner September 19, 2013 at 11:48 am #

      I will discuss this issue as I go on in other posts as it is a lengthy issue. Thanks for writing in.

  2. Chris September 18, 2013 at 3:48 am #

    I’ve heard heaps of bad things about the Tiger Temple and also it’s Chang Mai cousin the Tiger Kingdom – how did you find the whole atmosphere of the place from an conservation perspective?
    Chris recently posted…20 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About My TravelsMy Profile

    • Turner September 19, 2013 at 11:46 am #

      It is complicated to say the least. But after researching and pondering on it. I have a better sense of things. I will post about it.

  3. Flora the Explorer September 18, 2013 at 5:35 am #

    I hate to say it but this is fascinating Turner! I didn’t go to the temple out of principle when I was in Thailand, but I get the feeling you’re going to learn a lot of the truths of this place in a month. If you go hunting for them with your GoPro, that is :p happy investigating! Don’t get mauled too much, yeah?
    Flora the Explorer recently posted…How to Live the Local Life in BogotáMy Profile

    • Turner September 19, 2013 at 11:42 am #

      Thanks Flora. It is fascinating to learn more about the temple and tiger conservation as a whole. I feel like alice going down a rabbit hole. I felt like the situation there deserved looking into and balanced view, rather than a lot of people who lash out without having researched the entire picture. Should be an interesting to see it unfold. No maulings yet, for me anyway.

  4. Matthew Karsten September 18, 2013 at 7:05 am #

    I’ve heard that these places make millions. Interested to learn how many tourists you see come through every day. I bet you could estimate the revenue.
    Matthew Karsten recently posted…Why You Shouldn’t Ride Elephants in ThailandMy Profile

    • Turner September 19, 2013 at 11:45 am #

      The Temple was always throwing around different numbers, which is why it is even hard to say at the end of the day if they are making money (as they claim they don’t from the operations) as who knows what the costs variables truly are. However, in peak season I think upwards of a 1000 visitors a day. I think an average would be more like 600-700 though. The morning program, as I speak of above, I think has anywhere between 30-80 or so. The afternoon is much crazier, as I will discuss.

  5. Corinne September 19, 2013 at 9:38 am #

    It’s great that you are seeing the operation from another perspective. The tigers look everything from cute to menacing. I think you’ll end up having more wounds from the mosquitoes. Enjoy!
    Corinne recently posted…Welcoming the Cows Home – The AlmabtriebMy Profile

    • Turner September 19, 2013 at 11:49 am #

      Thanks Corinne. Yeah I felt that it is important to really look into the issue from a variety of positions. It is a lot to digest.

  6. Monique Ribeiro September 19, 2013 at 8:19 pm #

    That’s very interesting! I’m looking forward to read the next posts about these experience and about the issues related to tigers treatment. One question: To do this kind of volunteering work you have to pay something to the temple? Tks Turner!
    Monique Ribeiro recently posted…Amsterdam sozinha em quatro diasMy Profile

    • Turner September 20, 2013 at 6:13 pm #

      At the moment no. But that could change. I would suggest reading all the way through my next 15 posts to come, and any other reviews/speaking to the temple etc and make up your own mind what you believe and feel is right.

      Thanks for commenting Monique.
      Turner recently posted…Photos of the Week: Enter the Tiger cubsMy Profile

  7. Erin Bender (Travel With Bender) September 23, 2013 at 11:32 pm #

    We actually really enjoyed our time at the Tiger Temple and didn’t see any mistreatment. I’m hoping your results are the same. It is so magical! Loving the posts.

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