There used to be tigers on Bali. On Java, too. They’re gone now, extinct. The Sumatran tiger hangs on by the tips of its claws in the vanishing pockets of forest on Sumatra but they are critically endangered, with the numbers in the wild down to just a few hundred individuals. There are too many people on this planet, shouldering out any life that competes. All over the world wild places have become smaller and smaller as humanity takes over.
Apart from the ever-dwindling habitat, tigers and other iconic animals are the target of poachers, slaughtering animals for their body parts which are highly prized in Chinese medicine. It is astonishing to me that in the 21st century there are still people that believe a potion of ground-up tiger penis will give a man virility. I’m sure Viagra is cheaper – and it’s known to work.
The time will come when the animals we all saw in our nursery books – elephants, rhinos, lions, tigers, leopards, cheetahs, koalas – will only be able to survive in parks and zoos. Maybe there’s still a little bit of time. The Indian Government has spent millions to help to preserve Bengal tigers. Villages have been closed and the people moved to provide space for the big carnivores to roam naturally with their prey animals. But all of this is only going to work if people care, if a living tiger is worth more than a dead one. I was delighted to learn that tiger numbers in India have actually risen for the first time in decades. People go the safari parks to see tigers in the wild there. Education works.
That’s why, with some misgivings, I went to Bali Safari to see the tiger show.
I’ve seen tigers before. Many years ago, armed with my very first, brand new, totally unused Canon EOS camera, I went to Singapore zoo. We arrived early, and the tigers were having their morning swim. Wow. Just wow. Three of them, interacting and playing in the pool. It was wonderful and I’ve never forgotten it. Often the big cats lie around, maybe flick a tail, because that’s what they do. To see them move, running, (from a safe distance) is an absolute joy.
The tiger show lasts for half an hour. Hundreds of people turned up to watch, most of them Asian, many of them children. Like the elephant show, the aim is to educate. First we were shown the importance of the tiger in Balinese culture (which is based on Indian culture). In Hinduism the tiger is the steed of Durga, the warrior aspect of the Moon Goddess who battles demons with the weapons carried in her many arms. Durga and her mount were paraded out into the arena and a couple of human ‘tigers’ danced. Then performers showed the impact of man’s encroachment on tiger territory and the effects of poaching. The poaching was stopped by the Goddess, which I thought was a great touch.
The tigers themselves (three young beasts) were only out there for maybe ten minutes in total, in two short bursts. They came out with their keepers but were free to run around the waterfall and the grass. One immediately lay down in the stream. Another curled around a keeper’s legs, asking for his bottle. The third trotted along the path by the waterfall, encouraged with treats.
It was simply wonderful to see them move, that long, loping, effortless run. I was almost brought to tears. One of them climbed a pole wrapped in thick rope for a treat dangled above. I don’t think people realise how high a tiger can climb, or jump.
White tigers are not albinos. They can occur naturally in the wild if there is a mating between two cats which both carry this recessive gene. The coat is very pale, almost white, with the usual black stipes and they have ice-blue eyes. Their striking appearance makes them showy and popular – but scratch the surface and you’ll find a few disturbing characteristics. All white tigers are cross-eyed, even if they don’t appear to be. They also suffer from other genetic defects, such as club feet and problems with internal organs, so they don’t tend to last in the wild. All the white tigers in captivity stem from a litter brought to the US by a hunter who shot their mother. In the pet trade in the US white tigers were popular so breeders crossed fathers with daughters or granddaughters, brothers with sisters, to be sure of getting at least one or two white cubs from the pairing. The rest would be the usual orange – and they were often excess to requirements. The result of all this is that white tigers are horribly inbred. Nobody should be breeding them at all. Please read this article from Big Cat Rescue in Florida for more detailed information about white tigers.
Unfortunately, while Bali Safari had a poster explaining the double recessive gene and how a white tiger can result from mating, it did not mention the other effects. I most sincerely hope the park is not breeding from these cats.
I love tigers. As it happens, I was born in the Chinese year of the tiger. Chinese couples try to avoid having a girl in a tiger year. We grow up feisty and nasty. So it’s said.
You might have noticed a certain level of passion in this post. Without being an expert, I know a bit about the plight of the world’s tigers. I have written two books about them. They’re fantasy, starring a were-tiger (like a werewolf, a creature that can look like a human or an animal). The first, Black Tiger, is about the impact of poachers and the Chinese medicine trade on the tigers in India, with the fantasy and a touch of romance woven in.
The second, White Tiger, is about tigers in the USA where it is still legal in too many places for people to own great cats as pets. In fact, while the number of tigers in America is not precisely known, it is in excess of 6,000 – many, many more than the number of wild tigers in India – indeed, the world.
I wrote the books to try to educate people in an accessible way – read them for the fantasy and the romance and come away with a bit more knowledge about tigers in the modern world. I suppose it’s my small attempt to make a difference. It’s not quite as good as letting people see the real thing, but it’s the best I can do.
He haunts the jungle – and her dreams
When Dr. Sally Carter travels to India to regroup from a broken heart the last thing she wants is to fall in love. But Raja Asoka (Ash) Bhosle is entirely too attractive to ignore, even though she knows it can only end in tears. Hers.
Ash guards his forest and the precious creatures within it, protecting the rare tigers from mindless slaughter, and a secret that lives in legend. From the moment he sets eyes on the Australian doctor, he wants her, even over the objections of his mother and the unsuitability of her cultural heritage.
While Ash fights tiger poachers, Sally struggles against cultural prejudice. Can the Legend of the Black Tiger be the bond that brings them closer together, or will it be an impossible belief that rips them apart. The closer Sally comes to understanding what the legend means, the more frequent the nightmares become. Is she losing her sanity, or is there more to Sally than she herself knows? The answers lie buried in her past.
New York is no place for a tiger – not for weretiger Sally Carter or for the white tiger she finds in a Harlem basement, guarding an enormous stash of heroin. Sally’s daring rescue of the tiger attracts journalist Dave Gardner, who sniffs a story and a lead to a drug baron he’s been trying to nail for years.
While Sally is determined that the white tiger will find a home in a sanctuary, Gardner follows a tenuous trail from the tiger back to the drug cache – and a whole lot of trouble. Soon Sally and her weretiger husband find themselves mixed up in a drug baron’s plot for revenge where even their amazing weretiger talents may not be enough to save Gardner – or themselves.