During our visit to Chiang Mai we also had the opportunity to visit a couple of different areas that served as refuges for some of the local wildlife. The owner at our guesthouse arranged a great driver for a tuk-tuk and we spent the day out of town exploring a few different places.
The first place we stopped was an Indochina Tiger education and breeding site called Tiger Kingdom. During the visit we were able to get up close with these amazing cats. Many of the tigers in this area have either been rescued from people keeping them as illegal pets, or have been bred as part of a supported national program that will increase the dwindling populations of the cat. A number of tigers are also sent to different places around the world to help in the conservation effort.
We had a choice to visit the baby cubs, medium sized tigers, or the full grown adults. At first ginnie thought she would stick with the smaller, more cuddly baby cubs (also less threatening due to their much smaller teeth), and Anthony opted for the adult tigers figuring why go all the way to Thailand to visit baby tigers when you can get up close to a real live adult. As it turned out, we both ended up with the big cats (this was easier since it allowed each of us to enter the enclosure at the same time…easier for photos too!).
We entered the enclosure with one of the local handlers and were given the opportunity to observe, touch, and get up close to these amazing animals. They were quite relaxed in the mid-day heat of Thailand and preferred to go from lounging around getting belly rubs and affection to swimming in their pools, and then back again. It was incredible to actually touch and get close to these animals and it certainly provided a unique and interesting perspective on the type of lives they live in the wild. Since they are cats, they are much more active at night time (hunting and traversing the habitat in which they live).
Unfortunately due to an increased demand for their skins, organs, and other parts of their bodies, these Indochinese Tigers have nearly been hunted to extinction. Current numbers place the tigers (brother, Lucky, and sister, Sophia – 17 months and 19 months and +/- 250lbs) numbers at around 200 in Thailand. We left the enclosure and spent another hour or so touring around the remaining areas where we were able to visit.
After leaving the tigers, our tuk-tuk made the long journey up many large hills and rough terrain en-route to MaeSa Elephant Camp. The camp was established over 30 years ago with a mission to save and protect the beautiful Asian elephants whose livelihood as workers and modes of transport ended with the introduction of mechanized versions.
We began our visit with a stroll through the camp where we were able to observe a number of elephants either at work or just relaxing and eating. We decided to take a 30-minute elephant ride around the camp and had a nice tour with our elephant named Billy, who is 19 years old. We saw some elephants in training working on their soccer skills as well as a few elephants enjoying free time beside the mahout housing.
After our ride, we wandered through the shops and browsed through paintings created by the elephants themselves as well as looked at the various products made of elephant dung paper. By this time, we needed to get our seats for the upcoming elephant show so we made our way to the showground where we had time for our PB sandwiches J. Just before the start of the show, the elephants bathe in the river so ginnie went to watch and enjoyed seeing them frolic in the water (one small one was loving it and kept rolling over and over).
The elephant show was a lot of fun and enabled the elephants to demonstrate their abilities and talents. Learning these tricks and performing must be a great way to keep their minds active and provide these elephants with a job. We laughed as the elephants teased their mahouts, spun their trunks, waved their feet and taunted each other when competing in soccer.
The most amazing skill demonstrated was the painting; these elephants painted beautiful floral pictures during our show – it was incredible to watch.
Our day spent with two of the most impressive Asian animals provided us a unique opportunity to be close to them and to spend time learning more about each. We have been fortunate to have several incredible animal encounters and support efforts to protect endangered species along our travels and enjoyed our day spent with Indochinese Tigers and Asian Elephants.