I love cats! We currently have ten of the small variety at home. At one point we were up to eighteen – I won’t say that was too many, but finding enough space to sleep in bed at night wasn’t easy.
This was taken at Howlett’s wild animal park near Canterbury in Kent. It was a miserable Sunday afternoon at the end of summer. The good news was that the bad weather had kept most of the visitors at home and we had the place pretty much to ourselves. The bad news was that the animals didn’t like the conditions either and were all tucked up indoors. None of the smaller cats could be seen in their enclosures, the wolves were under cover and all the gorillas were sleeping. The honey badger had gone to ground and even the meerkats were muted. After a couple of hours of fruitless wandering, we had just taken the decision to head for home when we spotted the food wagon driving towards the tiger enclosure and more to the point… so had the tigers!
They appeared as if by magic and began to pace along one of the fences. Luckily there was a viewing point close by and I was able to take a few photographs. This was my favourite and I converted it to black and white to emphasise the detail. It reminds me of another day many years ago when we made the long drive to spend half an hour actually inside an enclosure with a young tiger. I believe the place has since moved, but back then you could pay to go in with some of the animals. We arrived with time to spare and were given a quick briefing. This would be one of the last of these visits as the tiger was getting too big to handle – not quite fully grown, but far from being a cub. I had heard about this place from someone at work. They filmed their entire visit and uploaded it to the internet, so I had a good idea of what to expect. One thing I did notice was that as soon as the tiger had been let out of his sleeping quarters, he made a bee line for the smallest person in the group. In our case, I knew it would be me and I wasn’t wrong.
For the entire half hour session with the tiger, he wouldn’t leave me alone. I didn’t mind him being close and I think the others in our group were happier to watch from a distance. We had been taught to not offer fingers, but to curl our hands into fists so they wouldn’t fit into the tiger’s mouth. That advice didn’t do much good as he clamped his jaws around my thigh. Ouch! The keeper tried to prise him off while I pretended it wasn’t hurting. Then they tried to calm him down by sitting me on a low platform, but he spotted the large plastic grip keeping my hair out of my face and he wanted it. Approaching from behind, he got his front paws over my shoulders and buried his muzzle in my neck. This was getting serious!
Eventually our time was up and we filed out of the enclosure and headed home. On closer inspection I had rips all over my long-sleeved shirt and my legs were bruised. I treasured those bruises until they eventually faded, but I still have the shirt as a memento.