The Sumatran tigers at the Toronto Zoo are among my very favourite animals to photograph and rarely do they produce a bad shot. I have a tendency to feature one or the other in all of my calendars; last December I used the photo of Kemala seen here and the corresponding story (which appears here on my other blog) used up most of my best information and anecdotes for both of these beauties. As a result I find myself scrambling this month for material to fill out a blog post to accompany the photo of Hari which appears in August. I hope you’ll forgive me if this ends up being more a simple collection of photos of Hari and Kemala (and a couple of others) than an actual post with any significant written component. Next month features an animal which hasn’t appeared in any of my “adult” calendars thus far, so I expect to have a lot more to work with then and should be able to get back into the swing of things.
First, though, let’s enter the Wayback Machine and visit the last time the Zoo had any Amur (formerly known as “Siberian”) tigers. When the giant pandas arrived in 2013 they needed to take over the Amur tiger exhibit (which underwent significant upgrades and redecorating) so the Zoo had to take a bit of a break in its Amur program. Vitali, here, was the last to leave and he headed down to the States as Kemala was making her way up to Toronto. In his last days in Toronto he spent his time sharing the double-enclosure-plus-yard-and-house exhibit of the Sumatran tigers with Hari, the only Sumatran in town then. On a Friday in early December – the week before my fateful encounter with Ashakiran – I finished shadowing my mentor, Glen, and wandered around the Zoo getting the lay of the land. I didn’t have my regular camera with me that day (which in any event was just a little point-and-click) so when I came down the boardwalk toward Indomalaya and encountered Hari (in the enclosure opposite to Vitali) chuffing away I pulled out my phone to try to get the cuteness on video. Of course, when I finally had everything ready to go he looked up and me and immediately stopped making any noise at all. I sighed and turned my attention to the considerably larger Amur on the other side of the walkway, lying peacefully on his perch and watching a few kids milling about at the bottom of the hill. I got right up close to the railing and leaned toward him, which put me about a metre or so from the fence between us, and began to take a few photos of this majestic creature, occasionally calling him by name. All seemed well, but I somehow managed to miss any signs he might have been giving off of increasing annoyance with me, apparently.
For without any perceptible warning Vitali suddenly rolled over and leaped to his feet, emitting an ear-splitting roar directed squarely at me, mere feet away from him. Yes, there was a fence and a railing between us but this isn’t information one tends to process in the nanosecond a tiger turns to roar at him. I don’t know the last time I was that startled; suffice it to say it was a very good thing I had hit the washrooms at the top of the hill before starting my descent or it would have been a very uncomfortable and embarrassing walk back to my car. When I regained any sense of coherence, I found myself standing at the far side of the walkway with no real concept of how I got there (I assume I jumped from one side to the other in abject fear) and assumed the photo I had been trying to shoot just as Vitali began his siren scream would be nothing but a blurry mess of colour and sky. To my surprise, however, when I reviewed it on my phone’s screen I discovered that I had somehow managed to snap it off before my body turned to jelly and the result was the amazing picture you see here. Ears pinned back, eyes squinted, mouth open, enormous paws at the ready, Vitali has perfectly positioned himself for a pounce had there been an open area between us. I don’t care if I ever find myself in a position to repeat this photo, but I am pleased to have captured this one that day. I love the Sumatrans a great deal, but I cannot wait until the Amurs make their return sometime next year after the pandas move on to Calgary because they are the biggest cats in the world and positively awesome to be in the presence of – even it they’re not putting you in your place.
There were two Amurs at Parc Safari when I visited that wonderful Zoo in June of this year, Naoum (the male) and Keysha (female). I only saw Keysha on exhibit that day (not to say Naoum wasn’t elsewhere on display but I did not see him) and she was in an enclosure right next to the four white lion cub lads who had arrived there from Toronto earlier in the year. She occasionally would come into their view and they would then drop whatever they were doing and head over to the gate separating the two exhibits to watch her for a while, before one or more of them would get bored and decide it was time for more wrestling around in the grass. I was really happy with this “enrichment” for the lads and I hope they enjoy the view for a long time to come.
When we were in the U.K. in November of 2015 we visited both the London Zoo and the Edinburgh Zoo. There were tigers at each facility but there was never a good opportunity to grab any photos that were worthwhile. It was just a matter of poor timing; had we been able to spend the kind of time I do at the Toronto Zoo, waiting for Hari or Kemala to get themselves into a position that lends itself well to fence-blurring (or simply near the picture window leading from the Indomalayan Pavilion) I would most assuredly have come home with some treasures. In particular, the ZSL London Zoo had several Sumatrans in their collection, as Melati had just had triplets the year before. (She has since had another set of twins, in June of 2016. We’re going to have to time a return visit to coincide with the next set of cubs going on display, clearly.)
The signage in London, though, was particularly amazing. Here is a collage of the best of the bunch.
My favourite, however, is this one (probably exactly how Vitali thought of me on that day a few years ago):
Yup. I only wish we were this blunt over here. The signs in Europe were so much more “on point” and entertaining than the ones in Toronto.
Of course, I also had to get the required shot of Sarah with a “mascot”:
Well, I think that about wraps up the storytelling portion of this month’s blog. Thanks for checking in! Hope to see you again in September. And now, here are a few random photos of the two beautiful Sumatran tigers currently at the Toronto Zoo – although not too many because I don’t want to completely deplete my stock. After all, next year’s calendar isn’t that far off. And come to think of it, maybe they’re not so “random” after all. See if you can deduce the “theme” that connects all of them (you may need to zoom in a bit). Good luck and have fun!