The Breath of a Bengal by Terry Hill " Help Save Some Tigers
I have smelled the breath of a Bengal Tiger and lived to tell the tale. This is true.
It's not that I am a Tiger tamer by profession. Although my love
of cats could easily lead me there someday. Neither am I insanely brave
or a foolish enough to approach a full grown Bengal Tiger. Unless I
knew I was safe. Obviously I was, or you wouldn't be reading this and all that remained of me would be smelly tiger poo.
Tiger poo smells bad, very bad. As does their breath. So bad that I could only remain nose to
nose with the beast for a few minutes. I wanted to stay much longer,
and would do it again in a heartbeat with effective noseplugs. Only
I was in Korea at the Pusan zoo. I normally don’t go to
zoos..they’re too sad. Cheetahs pacing 20 foot cages, never to run.
Birds in small cages never to fly free and far. Orca and dolphin in bad smelling
water, swimming slow in small circles . Lonely elephants and other social animals,
exhibiting neurotic behaviors, dying early deaths from broken, lonely hearts.
Yes, the zookeepers know this, and they do their best, but if
all the money spent on zoos were spent on buying habitats and keeping
humans out of them, it would be better for all the species, including
our own. The arguments for species preservation and human education
don’t fly with me. Take the humans to the edge of real, preserved habitats,
(or inside by virtual means) and let them watch the creatures' true, natural behavior. More respect will be
gained by the people for animals and the land than at any zoo full
of fake fiberglass rocks, non-native vegetation and paved people paths.
Nevertheless, I had an afternoon free, it was a hot and sunny summer day and the zoo was close and cheap.
I passed the cage of the pacing cheetah, rounded the corner and
there in front of me was the tiger cage. Bengals it said. But there
were no tigers to be seen. They weren’t outside pacing like the
cheetah, and the bright sunlight glaring off of the white shack in the
cage prevented me from seeing anything in the shadows inside. I could,
however, see that on the back wall was a small window, and the footpath
curved around the shack and cage. I followed it around and sure enough,
there was the small barred window, at perfect eye level. As soon as I
approached it, the smell of the cage was almost overpowering.
Perhaps they only clean it once a month. It smelled like it was time.
Nevertheless, I put my face up to the bars,
and waited for my eyes to adjust to the darkness inside.
Before I had a chance, WHOOMPH! A huge tiger’s head rose to
me, nose to nose! It was at least two feet wide, with eyes the size of
my palms, its nose half the size of my face. Its mouth was partly open,
Fangs as thick as my thumb and as long as a pencil were mere inches
from my face. I jumped back reflexively. You would too. But then, drawn
by the beauty, I moved back towards the tiger. Its paws were on the
windowsill, each the size of a dinner plate, claws sheathed, their tips
I had seen a piece of jewelry made from tiger teeth few
months earlier on the neck of my Sudanese landlord in Tokyo. Now,
looking at even larger teeth, still imbedded in their
proper place, I was again entranced by their beauty. Tiger teeth have a
matrix of lines weaving through them, giving them a pattern like dozens
of rivers seen from the air. Prettier than the finest jewels, I can see
why people have killed them just for their body parts.
It was incredibly beautiful. The glossy bright orange and black fur was thick and long, its eyes were full of natural pride of
existence and were curious with a tinge of sadness. It seemed to be
saying to me, “You are man, a small snack for me, the king of the
beasts, and while I can’t eat you because of these bars, I can let you
bask in the magnificence of my presence, and, if you can, let me out!”
The tongue, wide as my hand and long as my forearm was
panting in the summer heat, and as I have said before, its breath was
very bad. Combined with the smell of feces and urine the combination of the three was soon too much to bear.
I stayed as long as I could stand it, as the tiger
seemed as appreciative of my admiration as I was grateful for this
wonderful experience.. I can only hope that someday
it escapes, gets out of Pusan safely and returns to it’s native home.
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