October 1, 2010
When I read there were going to be tigers at my first volunteer placement in South Africa I figured it was some sort of typo and no way it could be true, but in fact there were tigers- and plenty of them! As I mentioned in one of my first posts on Boskoppie, tigers are being bred in South Africa right now to create a genetic reservoir in the hopes of one day returning them to Asia when poaching has become less of a problem. Right now in Asia tigers are worth more dead than alive. They are chopped up in pieces like cars part by part for eastern medicine. I wrote previously about the scientist John Varty who is working in SA to breed tigers and release them into the wild within South Africa. The goal is to eventually return them to where they belong when a stronger system of conservation can be put in place in Asia. Check out my post from last week to learn more about breeding center’s and Varty’s work.
While I was at Boskoppie we had two six-month old male tiger cubs named Indy and Tiny. They were beautiful and scary creatures. On our first day at the sanctuary we were brought in with them at sun down, which is the absolute worst time for baby tigers as they are at their most playful and two of the volunteers got attacked pretty badly. Their teeth aren’t big enough to do any serious damage yet, although they did break skin a little. However it is the strength of their jaws that does damage and the girls were left with serious bruises on their arms and legs. Because of that experience we were all a little hesitant around them, but halfway through the first week when an experienced volunteer came he calmed them down a bit and we all became better at dealing with the tigers. Caring for them involved cutting up meat, cleaning the poop out of their enclosures and usually their water trough, cleaning their water trough, and then hosing down the enclosure when it gets very dry. Most cats hate water, but tigers love it! They loved their water time and it was so much fun to watch them come alive and play in the spray from the hose. The question I was most often asked on tours was, “Who would win in a fight, a lion or tiger?” The answer is always a tiger, they can get up to 770 pounds, where a lion will only reach around 550 pounds. Their claws are longer and sharper and the pressure of their jaw is much stronger. The lion and tiger cubs are kept together in the same enclosure from about 1 year (when humans can’t handle them anymore) to 3 years when they reach sexual maturity. At sexual maturity they are separated to avoid fighting and breeding ligers. I will not go in to ligers here, if you are interested google them. Basically yes they exist, but not naturally in the wild so it is usually not encouraged in captivity.
The tiger is a beautiful and majestic beast and I count myself very lucky to have spent time with one, and hope that someday soon it will be safe for these beautiful creatures in captivity to run wild and free back in Asia. To read more about how you can help the plight of these amazing creatures check out WWF’s new campaign ROAR for the Tigers!