When most people think of Thailand and big cats they think of the ethically dubious Tiger Temple but not far away from there is a place where backpackers can get up close and personal with a tiger but do something far more worthwhile for the creatures than exploiting them for a cool social media profile photo.
Back in 2013 we spent a couple of days near Kanchanaburi walking in front of a tiger with a bag of chicken, allowing a small lion to use our feet as chew toys and providing hunting practice for a leopard cub. We were volunteering with the Safari Park Volunteer Initiative, a programme set up by two travellers that first visited the park as tourists and subsequently badgered the owners until they allowed them to help improve the welfare of the animals.
While our efforts as general volunteers were mostly confined to providing amusement for the captive animals (and for the volunteer coordinators too, I’m sure), since then the Safari Park Volunteer Initiative has begun a Big Cat Volunteer Program. Four volunteers are accepted every four weeks to assist with positive reinforcement training with big cats from six months to one year old.
We took some photos from when we walked a lion and below are pictures of the big cat volunteers as they go about their day we took from the Safari Park Volunteer Initiative’s Facebook page: www.facebook.com/safarivolunteer
For more information on working closely with lions, tigers and leopards as a volunteer with the Safari Park Volunteer Initiative visit www.safarivolunteer.com/#!big-cat-volunteering/c10wt.