Behind the Scene
Business with Hand-Rearing Tigers
Could you please introduce yourself and tell us what you do now?
Sure! My name is Kochakorn Chaiyabutr. I gained MBA from the Southeastern University in Washington DC. Then I came back to Thailand and decided to run a zoo in North Eastern Thailand. Currently, I’m a Managing Director of Tiger Kingdom.
What inspired you to start your business at the Tiger Kingdom?
Actually the Tiger Kingdom is my second business following the zoo in Ubon Ratchathani, but that one has several different types of animals kept in cages only. But one day we got a baby tiger and took care of it like petting a dog or cat. It turned out that this baby was so easy to look after. More interestingly, it became familiar with human beings. So, we recognized that tigers are actually friendly to human. To some extent they are the same as dogs and cats, but the tigers are much more powerful and stronger. After bringing up that baby tiger, we got a pair of Bengal tigers. These are the ancestors of hundreds of the tigers in the Tiger Kingdom. Then there were a lot of people appreciating unique orange, black and white stripe pattern of tigers and looking excited to see them more closely. At that time we were thinking it might be very interesting if the outsiders could be close to the tigers outside the cage. So, that’s why we started repopulating tigers in our other Kingdoms.
So, the main purpose of running the Tiger Kingdoms is to make them home to the tiger populations?
That’s one of the main reasons as we didn’t have enough space for all the tigers we had had. But the second reason is this is the way to feed and take care of our tigers. It’s undeniable that a lot of zoos around the world have hit hard times due to financial problems. Like them, our first zoo operated in Ubon Ratchathani doesn’t bring enough profits because most of visitors are local. The income we have gained from there is thus insufficient to take care of all the animals, including the tigers. At the same time, we foresaw our potential and invested the business early on, as we knew that tigers could bring a lot of attention to locals and particularly foreigners. Now we have the second Tiger Kingdom open in 2008 in Mae Rim, Chiang Mai and the third one in Phuket, which was open in 2013. Anyway the number of our tigers has steadily increased. We are planning to open a few more Tiger Kingdoms in the other parts of Thailand too.
How does the Tiger Kingdoms benefit local community?
Our Tiger Kingdoms provide knowledge and a variety of information about tigers for young people and all those who are interested in what we have done for the tigers. People need to come here and see the tigers by themselves. Those who have never been here may have thought we keep drugged-up tigers living in captivity, but actually this is absolutely a misunderstanding. Here we don’t torture the tigers. They learn to mimic the domesticated dogs’ affection for humans, leaving them irreversibly heart-warming. We would like people to be close to the tigers and have direct experience in that tigers are friendly to human beings.
Do you think you have already gained success in this business?
Yes, I think. This business has become successful mainly because Chiang Mai is a very popular destination for tourism. Many of our international visitors are from Western countries in North America, Europe, and Australia. They
Do you think what makes your business unique or different from others?
We have done a hard job; we can take care of tigers and all their cubs. According to Wild Animal Reservation and Protection Act, there are a lot of restrictions on keeping tigers for business purposes. But we have proved that we are compliant with the law and that we can look after the tigers well while the others can’t do so. Also, we take care of the tigers as same as our family members. The Tiger Kingdoms are like one big family. We and the tigers trust each other, and the rearers are those having been with our tigers since they were young. So, all the tigers are familiar with the rearers as if they are in the same family. This sort of thing is not what you can teach anybody. It specifically requires a lot of experience and personal observation among the rearers, as each tiger has different preferences or behaviors making them different from other types of animals. Though our Kingdoms are a bit smaller than the other zoos, we use and take care of every square meter for the wellbeing of our tigers.
Have there been any challenges or difficulties since we started this business? And how could you deal with them?
Yes, mostly about financial issues. As the number of tigers has increased, we had to build the other homes for them. Indeed, this is also for attracting those who visit different parts of Thailand. So, we focused mainly on touristic hubs, including Chiang Mai and Phuket. Meanwhile, we established a not-for-profit foundation located on 480,000 sqm land in Mae Taeng, Chiang Mai. This is where older tigers that are no longer active can live peacefully. It can also be a place where people can visit and pay a donation instead of an entrance fee.