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The new ‘pin-up boys’ of tourism

The new ‘pin-up boys’ of tourism


Rachna Singh

A capricious March, alternating between a dry hot spell and intermittent showers, prompted us to undertake a trip to Phuket in Thailand. We arrived there on a day celebrated as Songkran, which marks the start of the new year. What is the best thing to do in Phuket, we asked our taxi driver. Water sports and Tiger Park, he said succinctly. We were no water sports enthusiasts, so we decided to visit the Tiger Park.

The signboard outside the park was a nondescript one, with a toy tiger drawn on it. The entryway was flanked by a shop — selling stuffed tigers of all sizes — and a café. From the café, we glimpsed huge wire-mesh enclosures, housing tigers. The smaller enclosures had newborn cubs. ‘You can meet the tigers,’ said our guide, handing us a brochure which gave us options to enter any enclosure we chose, of course, at a price.

We paid the entry fee and were ushered into an enclosure with adult tigers. The trainer met us at the gate and escorted us to a magnificent tiger, lounging near the pool. We were told we could pat it or stand close to it, but not go near its face. I gingerly patted the tiger and the only acknowledgement I received was a disdainful flick of its tail. The trainer offered to take our pictures as we petted the tiger. Then the trainer escorted us to the other tiger in the enclosure, who was enjoying an afternoon siesta. He asked us to lie down next to the tiger and raise its tail like a trophy for a photograph. We declined hurriedly, shocked by the trainer’s offer.

After this rather tame encounter, we sat down in the café overlooking the enclosures for a cup of tea. As we watched, a group of tourists was ushered into the enclosure we had vacated. They wanted a picture with a tiger on a raised platform. The tiger in question was cooling off in the pool and refused to leave its refreshing haven. The trainer would have none of it and hounded the creature out by banging a huge wooden stick on the pool embankment. The big cat reluctantly left its cool refuge and climbed the platform. Chattering excitedly, the girls in the group raised the tiger’s tail like a baton as their friends clicked pictures. The tiger did not seem to like the treatment meted out to it and snarled in protest and anger. It received a tap on the nose with a wooden stick that the trainer carried. It subsided into silence and posed for the photographs, albeit with disdain. The tourists then moved to the other tiger, which had the look of a sacrificial goat. They lounged on the ground next to the tiger, using its haunches as an armrest, as though he was an inanimate toy.

I could not watch any longer and turned away. It saddened me to see these majestic animals being treated like pin-up boys of tourism, with their hunting instinct, ferocity and pride trained out of existence.


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