Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies in Cages with Tigers


Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies in Cages with Tigers

I could probably find statistics about how driving a child to the store or letting him ride his bike down the block is more dangerous than what I did, but I still feel defensive about bringing my sons into cages with tigers.

Still, it was the thrill of a lifetime. The hot, humid air of Thailand in August enveloped us as the guide opened the gate to the tiger’s enclosure. The massive, “medium-sized” tiger rested in the heat, head down, as we tentatively approached. With my heart pounding, I slowly reached out and petted its soft, luxurious fur. The guide gave it a hearty pat, smiling and relaxed, encouraging us not to be too timid around it. The tiger lifted its head, looked around. It tilted its head skyward in a big yawn, its teeth rising up, large perfect gravestones.

I touched the tiger’s paw hesitantly, and the guide again stepped in, lifting its paw in the air and shaking it carelessly. I finally lifted a heavy leg into the air. I squeezed its paw and a gigantic claw sprung out, just like they do with little housecats back home. That answered my question of whether its claws had been clipped.

The one warning we had been given was not to touch the tiger’s head. Swing its tail, pat its belly, lay our heads on its body: all perfectly fine. My husband, forgetting, reached a hand toward its head in his amazement. “No,” the guide was quick to remind him.

My son David, age 12 at the time, took his time approaching the tiger. He petted it and marveled at its strength and beauty. I was glad at that moment that we hadn’t entered the “large” tiger’s den.

The tiger spent most of the rest of the time we were with it tearing apart a coconut. My younger son, age 11, had not been allowed in with a tiger of this size. We all went in with the baby tigers with him. While the adult tiger had made my heart pound, the babies made it melt. These gigantic kittens played and cuddled with us.

When we returned from our trip, we shared photos, and I was surprised by the condemnation I received from other parents. I don’t know why it surprised me, other than we had observed the enclosures for a long time before we went in, and it felt safe at the time. I tend to be on the overprotective side in general, and I certainly have flung my share of judgment around when I’ve heard stories of kids climbing Everest or sailing alone across the Pacific, but somehow I decided to do this.

The postscript to this story is the part that is perhaps most unsettling. When we were safely at a restaurant that evening, the other mother on our tour and I shared our thoughts about the experience. While she was in the enclosure with her son and the tiger, she said she questioned the guide who held a little branch nearby. “I bet you have had a lot of training,” she said. He shrugged, replying: “I’m a waiter.”


(I’m curious to hear your thoughts about whether I was an irresponsible parent to my children to do this. I’ll try not to get too defensive.)

Update: Some more photos of us petting tigers in Thailand

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(Don't Be) Too Timid and Squeamish This is part of a series, Scene from a Memoir.

About Marcy

I blog about trying to get out of my comfort zone, completing 101 things in 1001 days (and beyond), and writing my memoirs. My book: Timid No More.
This entry was posted in Scene from a Memoir, Travel and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

61 Responses to Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies in Cages with Tigers

  1. Rahmath says:

    The photos are really great. I am no mother but if the place is safe, what’s the harm. ok ok I know people may say I am not a mother yet so I don’t know. But I was also a child and I think its important that parents don’t scare children unnecessarily . After all they are bound to grow up someday. How long can you protect them? Better teach them that one can take some kind of risks if one has analyzed the situation well. I wonder if I am conveying my point properly.

    Though I must admit…. Cuddling a tiger!!!……. Never imagined that one can do this 🙂
    Photos are really great.

    Btw too bad I can’t link up….Maybe Next time. Have a Great day 🙂

  2. I’m totally jealous of your tiger snuggles! And what an amazing memory for your boys! How many people get to say they laid on the ground with a tiger??
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  3. I hope old posts are appropriate. I linked one on moose.
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  4. I love tigers, they are my favorite wild animal…so beautiful, but I would never go in a cage with one. Wild animals are just that wild, and never really safe.
    Plus I am a big wuss!
    However, good for you! Your children will never forget that moment. Everything in life is a risk and you can not wrap your children in bubble wrap (though some mom’s might).
    You make my post on “Birding” a bid mild.

    Cranky Old Man
    ps if I had the balls to go in the cage, I would have wanted to touch that big beautiful head as well!
    Cranky Old Man recently posted..ABSENT MINDED OR OLD?My Profile

    • Marcy says:

      You don’t strike me as a wuss at all! I am looking forward to getting older and crankier so that I can say what I want to say all the time! Thanks for linking up.

  5. “I’m a waiter”! hahahahaha… I’m still laughing.

    When I was about ten my family took me to Magic Mountain, back when they had a trained Hollywood lion named Major. I begged to have my photo taken with him. I was sitting curled up against him, his giant mane brushing me, when he suddenly gave a full throated roar. What a thrill for me, but my grandmother and my dad’s long-time girlfriend were suddenly sure we’d made the wrong decision, and almost jumped in the cage to rescue me. 🙂 The only thing I regret is that my family lost the photo!

    Your photos are beautiful, but even without them, your children will never forget the experience. You’re giving them a lesson in calculated risk – small risk, huge reward. I’ll bet in ten years they’ll be motivated, adventurous, successful adults. Today I’m a writer, I travel the world, I’m happily married… and I love my life. I think the little moments of daring along the way have taught me the courage to achieve my dreams.

    • Marcy says:

      Wow–I am sure I would be terrified to be next to a roaring lion! Thanks for your thoughts–very well said and inspiring.

  6. totsymae1011 says:

    You know, when I saw you all cuddly with the tiger, I thought, “She’s CRAZY!” but when I really think about it, it would only be crazy for me. What you do for you is the right thing for you, specifically. And actually, I sorta envy the dare devil in your for trying things that are new, as I remember some of your 2011 month-to-month resolutions and was inspired to try this route as well.

    It’s a pretty cool thing to let your kids go for it. They, in a large sense, become fearless in tackling challenges when challenged to do what a lot of people won’t. I think, as parents and people in general, we inject our fears onto others. A prime example would be me not getting cuddly with a tiger although they appear warm and friendly, therefore I’d not allow my child to have that experience either, even if she wanted to fill her curiosity.

    Nothing wrong with it as I see it.
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  7. Jennifer says:

    That is fantastic! What doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger, right? 8) Another great post Marcy!
    I’m working on my link up post. Hopefully tomorrow…
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  8. I don’t question your judgement when it comes to your sons safety, that’s your call and you made it with whatever information and experience you had at the time. It may not be the same decision as someone else would make, or even one you’d make again, but that’s time, decisions and experience. Personally what I would question is the whole tiger set up, captivity, petting, ‘tamed’ wild animals, waiters as keepers (!), I think there’s more questions there than anywhere else in the whole experience. 🙂
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  9. Kisatrtle says:

    I like this. Might have to link up sometime. Great pics!

  10. Alea Milham says:

    My parents made an effort to expose me to lots of experiences. I am pretty sure there are pictures somewhere of me sitting on an alligator. As a mother I have also made sure that my kids have had lots of awesome experiences. They’ve ridden on camels, elephants, lipizan stallions, and touched or held every animal that zoos, aquariums, and living museums have made available for public interactions. We even camped on the Maryland side of Assateague with the wild ponies. I’ve learned which friends I can share pictures with and which ones I just tell, “we had a lovely vacation”. 🙂
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    • Marcy says:

      Wow, how great for your children. The wild ponies? I would love to do that! I think you have a lot of sense in sharing pictures with the people who would be supportive. Great tip!

  11. —I Am in compete and utter AWE…
    Are these stunning creatures tame?
    What ‘s the story?
    Touching that fur…. or resting my head on that body would be like a
    kind of heaven.
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    • Marcy says:

      I wouldn’t call them tame, but they were raised by humans and used to the constant interaction, I think. Thanks for visiting!

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  14. Stacey says:

    I highly doubt any organization would let you in to snuggle tigers if they had the slightest concern there would be a mauling. (Although that “I’m a waiter” comment is troubling!) What a wonderful and unique experience for you and your children.
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  15. sammy says:

    I can’t wait for your book Marcy – I know it’s coming. Life is all about experiences and your kids are so lucky to have parents like you and your husband that will let them have them. Sometimes when I’ve allowed the kids to do something I then think about it afterwards and think maybe that wasn’t such a good idea, but touchwood nothing untoward has happened so far!! (Although when we were in Bali Nick got a “temporary henna tattoo” an eagle that went from should blade to shoulder blade … after two weeks he had a skin reaction and the doctor felt he may well have the image on his back for life. I felt physically sick thinking that my lack of judgement had physically scarred him, luckily it has faded but will make me pause for thought a bit more in the future!)
    sammy recently posted..Bam! Back to reality.My Profile

    • Marcy says:

      Thanks, Sammy! I don’t know about the book though, lol. Oh my goodness, what a horrible experience with the tattoo! I am so glad everything worked out OK. That’s what is so tricky about the decisions we make as parents, isn’t it? What if the once-in-a-lifetime experience turns out terribly? Bali is a place I dream of going to someday, by the way. I loved your photos!

  16. Laine says:

    What an amazing experience! You know, hindsight is 20/20, but we all make the choices we feel are right at the time. Nothing bad happened and you all had a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I consider that a win!
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  17. Great post and wonderful photos. As for those stats on driving and bike riding — I’ve got them in my Parenting and Acceptable Risk post:

    Kudos, Mama! Looked like a great experience. Except for the “there’ve been accidents” and “I’m a waiter” comments (maybe he was joking?)….
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    • Marcy says:

      Thanks so much! Great job using research to back up your very persuasive argument. Perfect! Thanks for giving the link.

  18. Rossandra says:

    I love it! You did the right thing. From what I’ve been reading about you and see the way you are with your family, you would’ve sensed if something was off.
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  19. I think this is wonderful! What an experience for your children – one they will remember their whole lives! I think it is important to teach children to embrace many experiences and provided the environment feels safe to the parent, we need to teach them to live without fear. I would love to do something like this one day, although I too would probably stick with the medium tiger and the babies! Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful post with the Gallery of Favorites.
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  21. Hi Marcy,
    I’m sorry to say it’s been a while since I checked your blog – but WOW! You are going to need a new title soon. I’m not seeing any timidity here.
    You did a good thing. The lessons your children got out of this are so important. And the photos are wonderful – really give the feeling of being there.
    I’ll be keeping a closer eye on your blog. 🙂
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  24. Frelle says:

    I think you took the opportunity, following your instinct, and with guidance from someone who knows, to take the chance of a lifetime. I love your pictures and am so glad you had that experience!!!
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  25. Erin @Momfog says:

    I don’t question your judgement at all. I would let my kids do the same. It’s kind of weird, though. When I see news stories of zoo workers or Sea World employees being attacked by animals, my standard response is, “They are wild animals. This is not surprising stuff.” Yet, I’d let my kids pet a tiger. I’m not questioning your judgement, but now I’m definitely questioning mine….
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  26. Katie says:

    I’m not a mom, so I can’t say exactly what I would have done in a similar situation, but I can say what I THINK I would have done…and it would have been the same thing you did. That’s a once in a lifetime experience, and you should be proud for giving your sons that opportunity.
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  28. David Evans says:

    Wow! Awesome pictures. Love tigers, so had to read the post when I saw the pic. You are inspiring me to step-up and try some new things and visit some new places. Thailand is not what come to mind for me, so I think that is my problem. Not open minded enough.
    Thanks for sharing, David
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  30. Great post! The punchline at the end was perfect! Ellen and I both love to give our kids experiences and therefore we have put babies in canoes and whisked them up mountains. My 5 year old hiked part of the Appalachian Trail before he was potty-trained, so we would never judge. Besides, this is one of those cool experiences that your kids will remember forever. Thanks for linking up! Erin

  31. Larks says:

    I don’t know what I would have done in your shoes but I’m sure you did what you thought was best with the knowledge and gut instinct you had at the time. Weirdly, I find the waiter comment reassuring because if I had a bunch of tigers that I was going to let parents who could end my livelihood take photographic evidence of with their children I would have to be pretty damn confident that the tigers were docile if I put a waiter in charge of the proceedings.

    On the whole I’m more inclined to think that parents are overprotective but in strange, ultimately counterproductive ways. Like freaking out if no Purell is available and insisting the kid wears a bandana around his neck if he has a cold but then regularly driving around while talking on cell phones and picking up Happy Meals. It’s as if the most important thing to us is feeling as if we’re minimizing risk rather than actually minimizing risk.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if your initial comment about it being more risky to drive to the store than hang out with a tiger actually turned out to be correct. The tiger encounter is technically safer but people feel more comfortable freaking out about it because it’s easier to put a stop to than a car accident.

    • Marcy says:

      I think you’re completely right about feeling as if we’re minimizing risk. And the cell phones on the highways are driving me crazy–so dangerous! I hadn’t thought about the waiter comment that way before. 🙂

  32. Azara says:

    I wouldn’t do it, but I attribute that to my own cautiousness and anxiety issues ( which only got worse after I had kids), rather than any criticism of you doing it. Also, my kids are 2.5 years and 4 months old, so it’s hard to picture doing something like this with them.

  33. Eek!!! I’m a wimp, and wouldn’t (couldn’t?!) do this, but no judgement I reckon. They do look gorgeous! But I will stick with my slightly smaller domestic moggies I think!

  34. I remember this, still good, and I’m still a wuss.

  35. A waiter? Too funny! I don’t question your judgement – I’d have given my kids the same fantastic memories if I were in your shoes.

  36. WOW! I’m a WAITER! Made me LOL. So, would I do this? Not sure. My guys are too small, mr9 would be terrified and mr6 wouldn’t be able to keep his hands off the head! Having said that, any reticence I might have would be more down to respect for wild (and endangered) animals. Thanks for Rewinding.

  37. I want a pet tiger, so these photos made me smile. 🙂
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  38. Jen says:

    How amazing that you were able to do that! I’d have been terrified, but exhilarated at the same time. Those babies too…. awwww….

  39. Karen says:

    What a special experience for your family! Your sons are going to remember that trip for the rest of their lives. I would love to pet a tiger.
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  40. J. Milburn says:

    I love tigers, but I’m not an animal person in general, no matter what kind it is. But I don’t see anything wrong with giving your kids a special memory. You were there and all the naysayers weren’t. Looked like fun!

  41. Shailaja V says:

    I think it’s perfectly fine what you did. Hey, I’ve had a snake around my shoulders, so this is cool!

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  43. Adrian says:

    So interesting. When I was about 9, there was a lion cub at the opening of a department store and I got a chance to pet it. I’d totally forgotten about that. You know even though this was back in the 60’s when parents were a lot more trusting, I don’t think my Mom batted an eye about it and she’d have been mad as heck if I’d missed the chance to pet a real live lion! It kind of disturbs me how quickly we’ve gone from one extreme (No seatbelts, carseats, etc.) to the other in just the course of one generation. I really wonder sometimes if that’s a good thing or not?

    You know, I’ve always wondered something. My pets have always been a very quirky lot with tons of funny little habits and very interesting personalities. I’ve always wondered if animals in the wild have the same tendencies towards quirkiness? #SITSSharefest
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    • Marcy says:

      I think we have become too overprotective, not just with actual dangers, but with letting kids take risks and stumble in academic and personal pursuits also. I definitely think animals have their own quirky personalities, at least chimpanzees from a documentary I saw. Thanks for your comment.

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  46. Karen says:

    I know my post is a bit late in the day, but those poor tigers have probably been drugged. I would urge anyone NOT to support these tourist attractions. Came across your blog as I was looking for info on the Inca Trail which I’m doing in September – now that was a great blog!

    • Marcy says:

      Thanks for sharing your concern. It was an incredible experience, but I think you’re right to question the welfare of the animals. The ones I interacted with seemed alert and healthy, but I don’t know for sure whether they were drugged or not. Have a great time on the Inca Trail!

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