Saturday 24th December 2011
Hi! It’s Christmas Eve. Yuletide Eve in my money. Everything is quiet on the owl front. There haven’t been any changes really since last week. This is a good thing at this time of year.
I do however have a seasonal ‘cautionary’ tale to tell. This is not about owls, but is from the zoo environment.
Way back ‘in the year of our lord’ 2000 AD I was on a sabbatical from the World Owl Trust, and found myself in the employment of a local Cumbrian wildlife park. One of the sections I was responsible for was the Tigers. It was Christmas Eve. I had been delegated to pick up the leftover food from two of the local food retailers. I had to go last thing at night because on this special occasion, one particular supermarket was allowing the local hostels and shelters for the homeless to collect any UN sold Turkeys and other assorted festive fare. Anything left unclaimed could then be passed on to the wildlife park. Despite being last in line, I managed to collect 15 massive Turkeys from one establishment. No guesses for what the Tigers were having on Christmas Day!
On Christmas Day all the staff would come in to get all the essentials done as quickly as possible, so we could all knock off in time for our own Yuletide festivities. My job was to feed the Tigers. This can be a little tricky, as I suspect for Tigers at least, the line between ‘feeder’ and ‘food’ can be a trifle blurred at times. I would be required to go in to the Tiger’s outdoor enclosures and place the food on top of these 5 metre high poles, as climbing the poles to retrieve the food is good exercise for these animals. The Sumatran Tigers were quite compliant, and allowed themselves to be locked into their indoor enclosures readily enough. I was thorough, and checked the Turkeys for giblets, which for some reason are usually bagged in plastic, and shoved inside the Turkey. I checked and found no giblets, so I went and placed these massive Turkeys on top of these poles. This looked quite comical, and not a little surreal. I suppose this is what Christmas must look like ‘Tiger style’. I let the Sumatran Tigers out to collect their Christmas dinner. The Amur Tigers were not as cooperative. These cats are the largest cat species on the planet. In winter they are a magnificent sight, with their fur reaching up to 10cm in length even further enhancing their size. Why would a magnificent creature like that want to comply with the wishes of a puny Human? In short, they weren’t coming in! In the end I resorted to standing inside the safety barrier near the inside entrance, ‘waving’ a massive Turkey in both hands not unlike semaphore. This did the trick! They shot inside like rats up a drainpipe. However, this action on the Turkeys had shaken the loose skin flaps where the Turkey’s necks had been, and allowed the plastic bags full of giblets to fall out! I had visions of Tigers eating plastic bags! What was I to do? As fluke would have it, only one of the Sumatrans had gone out at this time, and I promptly locked him back in, leaving the female Sumatran outside. My heart was in my mouth; I ran outside to see where she was, and as luck would have it, she was right next to the fence. She was absorbed with dismembering the Turkey, the plastic bag of giblets is laying next to her head. Ever so cautiously I managed to hook the bag of giblets, and extract it from her cage. Phew! I had to tempt her back inside with some more food, before I could go back in to her enclosure and extract the second bag of giblets.
I’m happy to say that the remainder of the Tiger feed went smoothly and without a hitch. The moral of this story is; always check your Turkey for the bag of giblets, even in places where you might not expect them!
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