Thursday, January 01, 2009

Our Chinese Safari

It was with a mix of excitement and trepidation that we set out for Dongbei Hu Linyuan, a Siberian tiger park out at the edge of Harbin. Excitement at the prospect of seeing Siberian tigers up close in the region where they once roamed in large numbers. Trepidation at the thought of what a Chinese safari park would actually be like. (Have we ever told you about the time, back in 2004, when we saw a Siberian tiger being kept in a small cage in subtropical southwestern China? The whole idea was that you could go into the cage, sit on his back, and have your picture taken. Which many parents were letting their small children do...) Both of these emotions were definitely experienced over the course of a few hours.

To begin with, after purchasing our tickets, we were waved into a building to wait for our bus number to be called. No big surprise here...The waiting area consisted of a gift shop packed with dongbei hu-inspired memorabilia and trinkets. Somehow, all four of us resisted the urge to have our photo taken and superimposed on a digital image of a Siberian tiger!

When the call went out, we jumped onto our bus, which had cages around windows that slide open. Suitably protected, in past a series of mechanical gates we went. It wasn't long before we began seeing Siberian tigers, walking around, laying down, and playing with each other.

Some of these encounters were of the very close kind. Julie had the window open, and her hand out of a hole in the cage, when an African lion (yes, there are other large predators roaming around the Siberian tiger park!) came up and brushed against our bus...right below Julie's window! (Note to grandparents...She pulled her hand in as the beast approached!) Overall, there indeed was a high level of excitement on the bus, thanks to the size and beauty of the animals.

As for the trepidation, there were the tigers, dozens and dozens of them, pacing and growling in small cages. Even some of the animals in the "open" spaces were walking back and forth along the edges of fences. I kept trying to convince myself that I should be thankful for the park, because without it the Siberian tigers might very well be approaching extinction.

So, yes, I really enjoyed the place. But I don't really have the ambition of going on too many safaris in my lifetime...

~Steve

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