Monday, August 4, 2008

Feeding the Tiger

So, while we were in Spokane for MERPcon, we took a little time before the con started and during the evenings to explore the city as well. In addition to a v. nice riverwalk and interesting downtown area, we got to go up to the Cat Tales Zoological Park in Mead, a small feline zoo north of the city. Not only did I get to pet the resident Bengal, who lay snoozing in the path without a care in the world, but we saw a bobcat, cougar, panther, leopard, serval cat, two bears,* the mellowist lion in the world, and tigers. Lots of tigers. Tigers soaking in pools and tigers on the prowl. Tigers sleeping in the shade and tigers pacing in the sun. White tigers (melanistic) and tiger cubs (adorable) and one lightly tiger-striped lion (a liger or tigon, perhaps?). Best of all, we got to feed a tiger.**

It's clear that when working out how to let people feed a tiger, the zoo staff has put some serious thought into idiot-proofing the process. First they push a huge plexiglass shield -- actually more like a three-sided clear cage -- up against the tiger's cage. This plastic wall has a hole a few inches wide in one side. Then they remind you of the rules -- that if a piece of meat falls to the ground, the attendant picks it up, not you. Then the attendant hands you a short plastic skewer which looks for all the world like one of those candles you hold for a midnight vigil or Christmas Eve service. Then she puts a piece of meat (about the same size as the chunks you buy already cut up for stew at the store) on the end of the little skewer. You stick the skewer through the little hole and through the mesh of the cage, and the tiger (who's been waiting with interest this whole time, ever since the feeder's cage hove into view) delicately takes the morsel from the other end. Repeat. Each person gets ten pieces of meat, and the tiger sometimes almost dropped one and used a paw to shove it back in, very like Winnie-the-Pooh in the famous Ernest Shepherd illustrations. Both Janice and I gave it a go, and enjoyed it immensely. If you like cats and find yourself in the area, definitely recommended.


current audiobook: THE CHILDREN OF HURIN, read by Christopher Tolkien and Christopher Lee.

*the black bears were there, although they didn't fit the theme of the little zoo, because had Cat Tales not taken them in they would both have been shot, having each been a wild bear who ventured into populated areas in a desperate search for food. A rather tart notice posted beside one bear's cage said the zoo owners were well aware the bears needed bigger quarters and encouraged those who were worried about them to contribute something toward building them better accomodations.

**in our case, Selim, whose little brother snoozed in a nearby cage; their big brother is famous for having appeared in the arena with Russell Crow in GLADIATOR.

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