Yesterday was the 12th birthday of a captive tiger called Amba. She was born in captivity, probably the descendant of circus animals. She shares her enclosure with a male tiger called Rana. They are the most amazing, beautiful and impressive creatures ever!
The reason we (my colleague and I) were there was for Shepreth's 'Tiger Day' - a day spent celebrating these amazing animals (and Amba's birthday) but, most importantly, raising funds for work with tigers in the wild.
Shepreth rehomed the tigers from Paradise Wildlife Park, several years ago, and though locals were somewhat dubious at having these huge predators in the neighbourhood at first, they have proved to be a great attraction. And seeing them - who can but be moved to want to preserve this wonderful great cat in it's native home? The nice thing about Shepreth is they are not only a visitor attraction, but they are active in conservation work in the field too.
FFI work with tigers in Sumatra and Becca, from Shepreth, had spent five weeks out there recently. She didn't see any wild tigers, even though she was with our top tiger team (the rangers do an amazing job out there, protecting the tigers from poachers and protecting their habitat from illeagal logging and agricultural encroachment). Rob, however, my colleague who went out for a week earlier in March, saw one more or less on his first day!
I think I'd like to see a tiger in the wild - provided there was suitable distance or protection; those teeth are huge! Whilst the environmental enrichment (hide the tiger food) programme was underway in their enclosure, the tigers were briefly locked into their night dens. We were situated right next to one of the dens and could look through the window at the tiger. He would often come up to the window and look out at us, just inches away (reinforced glass, of course).
There were a number of events, most of which we didn't get to see as we were on our stand (actually a little table under a kindly loaned gazebo - it rained and rained!), and I got to meet wildlife vet John Lewis who was a very interesting guy to talk to indeed. I first saw him on Monkey World on TV many years ago - but his main interest now is big cats. He's invented a field anaethstics kit (probably a much better technical name for it than that) and soon he's going out to work in Russia.
I asked him if he'd ended up doing wildlife veterinary work by accident or on purpose - he said as he'd started out in zoos, it was a natural progression. He also mentioned how many children die because of rabies, and how veterinary care of domestic/working dogs could so reduce this. Simple things we can do that could change the world. We didn't talk for long, but he covered a lot of ground in a short space of time.
We had a successful day, lots of visitors, a very happy child who won our toy tiger, and some really good contacts. We talked to one of the keepers who'd been out in Africa and found a human foot in a wellington boot the morning after some lions visited. He doesn't like lions so much... but the little mountain lion at the park purrs as soon as she sees him (or is it the green uniform = food response?).
It was a different day to working in the office - spending the day next to tigers, talking to people about our charity, and watching kids look in awe at these beautiful cats. Oh, and at the end of the day, there was a kerfuffle over at one of the monkey enclosures. Some bright spark had put his posh mobile phone out really close to get a good photo (over the barrier) and smart monkey thought 'oy! I'll ave some o that' and grabbed said fruity mobile phone (which did not taste as delectable as the fruit which gives it name) and chewed it up.
The phone-owner was furious (but insured), the phone was retrieved (broken), but more to the point, the monkey was ok (the batteries are poisonous).
All in all, a successful and pleasant day, despite the rain.
Click here to see some great tiger pictures
Click here to sponsor Becca on her 'Tiger Swim'
Top photo of tiger eyes (C) Fauna & Flora International