Olongapo SubicBay BatangGapo Newscenter

Monday, October 30, 2006

Feed That Tiger!

Feeding time at the Zoobic Safari isn't for the squeamish. Rather than keeping it out of sight and out of mind, visitors to this Filipino wildlife attraction are allowed in close--very close--to watch.

For most of the animals it's no big deal. The lush 25-ha park in Subic Bay, a few hours northwest of Manila, houses dozens of Asian, African and North American animal species in its various walk-through and drive-through enclosures.

There are ostriches, albino buffalo, potbelly pigs and wild boars, deer, guinea fowl and miniature horses, as well as a serpentarium, rodent house and honeybee farm.

Interesting if you've never seen them before, but not particularly exciting.

The main attraction, what gets people there in the first place, is the animals that can't be fed at the petting zoo--a dozen full-grown Bengalese and Siberian tigers.

Visitors ride through their habitat in a specially designed safari jeep encased in a steel-mesh cage, which means you're safe even when the tigers get right up alongside.

But once you've seen one up close, witnessed their sheer size and obvious strength, the cage doesn't feel like much protection.

This isn't a zoo after all--you're inside with the animals all around you.

As the jeep drives the 15-minute circuit around the enclosure, tigers prowl through grass-covered hills, laze in the shade or sit neck-deep in a pool. By nature tigers are fairly sedate, sleeping most of the day and moving at their leisure.

Except when they're hungry and food is about. And this is where the Zoobic Safari makes its mark.

For the equivalent of about US$4, visitors can buy a live chicken to be served to the beasts. A guide dangles the chicken, tied by its feet, through a small gate in the jeep's cage. The result is predictable enough, although the experience of how it happens can vary pretty dramatically.

Sometimes the guide can entice a tiger to climb right up onto the side of the jeep, close enough for you to smell its breath and stare into its eyes.

At other times the tiger, used to this little teasing ritual, goes for the quick strike. While anticipated, it still happens fast enough to be surprising. A flash of orange and black fur and the chicken is gone. Hopefully it's a clean take, but often it's messy. That part is definitely not for the squeamish.

Certainly more pleasant is the chance, if there have been any recent births at the onsite breeding facility, for a close encounter with a tiger cub.

Under the watchful supervision of a handler, visitors are allowed to cradle and bottle-feed some of the new arrivals.

Even at a few months old, these cubs have a wiry strength, sharp teeth and claws. Playful yet demanding, they are not afraid to use both if they want your attention. Holding onto the friskier cubs and the bottle at the same time can be a bit of a challenge.

Playing with a tiger cub is pretty much at the top of the list in terms of memorable holiday experiences. There aren't too many places in the world that will let you do this, and fewer that charge only a pittance for the privilege.

Visitors can also have their picture taken with one of the tigers as it stretches out across a bench to be petted or bottle-fed.

Admission costs $6 on weekdays and $8 on weekends, and the ride through the tiger enclosure is an additional $1.

Subic Bay offers many other adventure and wildlife attractions, as well as duty-free shopping opportunities. (By Chris Vedelago, The Nation/ANN)


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