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Sunday, 4 January 2009

Bring out the tiger in you...

'Tiger, tiger, burning bright in the forests of the night' are the opening lines to William Blake's famous immortal poem about the fear and absolute dread people have of that most beautiful of wild animals. This weekend I checked out an amazing tiger sanctuary in the dusty hillside of Kanchanaburi, Thailand, where one enterprising abbot called Abbot Phra Phusit or 'Chan' to his friends started a tiger sanctuary.

Chan was so worried with so much illegal poaching in the area that he knew something had to be done to protect these beautiful creatures along with many others. As he says, ‘why can't we live together...after all we all have the same blood...and it's red'...A reflection by the Abbot-Pra Acharn Phusit (Chan).

For 1,000 baht (approx. 20 GBP) you can go down to the Tiger Canyon, a strange cavernous, almost subterranean area and have your picture taken with these magical beasts of the jungle, and see the ''distant deeps or skies the burn the fire of thine eyes'.

As it says in the guide brochure,

'Since its opening, Wat Pa Luangta Bua gained a reputation as a wildlife sanctuary. It started with an injured wild fowl given to the monk by the villagers, then peacocks came attracted by the calls of by then rather large colony of wild fowl. An injured wild boar stumbled in to the monastery and the monks cared for him until he could be released back into the forest. The next day he came back followed by his family group of about 10 animals. By now a countless number of boar find shelter in the monastery. Villagers also started to bring in unwanted pets: four species of deer moved in, followed by buffalo, cows, horses, wild goats and gibbons. All these animals are roaming the grounds of the monastery freely.'

It was in February 1999 that the first tiger cub arrived at the monastery . The condition of the female cub of Indochinese subspecies (Tigris corbetti) was very poor. It was only a few months old her mother was killed by poachers near the border between Thailand and Burma. After selling the cub, the new owner ordered a full taxidermy of the animal and had her stuffed. A local was hired to do the job, which luckily for the cub he did not finish. Although he injected her in the neck with the preservative formalin, the cub survived.

But if you think that's all you can see at this amazing sanctuary, you'd be wrong. There are peacocks, wild boars, horses, camels, buffalo, deer, and even a solitary leopard.

But perhaps the most interesting aspect of this place is the fact that you can actually interact with these animals on a one-to-one level. The experience is probably on a par with swimming with dolphins or riding an elephant for the first time. It's something sadly needed not like the wrestling with alligators kind of experience that Australian croc hunter, Steve Irwin, did in his TV show and who met an untimely death by forgetting the first law of nature - don't mess with wild animals in their own habitat or they are at some point likely to jump up and bite you as that stingray did with fatal consequences.

There is definitely something magical about looking at these creatures straight in the eye and even after many of them have been mistreated by humans they are still able to let you get close to them which shows a remarkable level of reciprocal trust not often seen in our harsh world of 'work produce consume'.

It makes you realise that we have lost something vital to ourselves as a species: that union with the animals that share our planet and it's only when we pay a few dollars to go to a zoo or a park or sanctuary such as the one in Kanchanburi, that we begin to realise this.

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