16 March 2020

The Mysore Tiger

We were touring India in 1987 and had arrived at Mysore the night before. Someone looked at the travel book we had and suggested we visit the Mysore zoo, which was said to be quite good.  We duly arrived early and wandered about looking at the animals.  A voice behind us said, “Does anyone want to go in the cage with the tiger”.  We turned and there was a man in a zookeeper’s uniform and he seemed to be addressing us.  I made a quick decision – they don’t usually put foreigners in cages with man-eating tigers and leave them to perish.  So hoping that they had already given the tiger his breakfast, I volunteered.  The zookeeper led me into an empty cage and then exited through a side door leaving me alone in the cage.  I saw a tiger sized door at the back of the cage and began to feel a little worried.  No need to worry, the keeper soon appeared through another door with a huge tiger on a lead.  The tiger was certainly big but he looked slightly thin, more from old age than hunger I hoped.

Tiger Cub at Hamilton Zoo
I looked at the tiger and the tiger looked at me.  He didn’t look too fierce and I decided that he was really just tame cat.  So I hunkered down in front of him and as I’d been taught by my father offered the back of my hand.  Reaching out the front of your hand to an animal can be seen as an act of aggression – with unpredictable results.  The approach worked.   The tiger moved forward and, almost purring, started licking the back of my hand.  Ah, I thought, you’re just an old pussycat.

But next thing and so smoothly I didn’t even have a chance to react, he opened his mouth and took my hand between his teeth.  This wasn’t so good.  He had my hand and I daren’t pull away suddenly.  The tiger slowly jawed his way up my arm.  He didn’t exert any pressure on my arm – he just seemed to be playing with my arm the way a cat plays with a mouse.  I felt a sweat on my forehead and a trickle of sweat ran down my neck.  When he got to my elbow I started to get worried.  I looked from his big yellow teeth to his big eyes and tried to read his thoughts but was like trying to read a poker players face.

Tiger Cub Eyes (insert arm)
I looked up at the zookeeper and became very worried.  His eyes were like saucers.  It was a cold day and he was also in a sweat, something you don’t often see with Indians, even after the hottest curries.  “Please, Sahib” he said, “Do not be putting your arm in the tigers mouth”.  "Did I?", I thought. The tiger seemed to relax his grip so I decided to pull away.  As I started to stand up the tiger lunged forward roaring and straining on the lead.  “Go NOW Sahib” the zookeeper said.  The keeper was a small man and the tiger seemed to be dragging him towards me.

As I rose to run I felt something on my back.  It was Eric; my friend who I hadn’t noticed had come into the cage with me.  As I spun about to take my leave of the cage, Eric slid off my back.  “Good” I thought.  I had Eric between the tiger and me.  We made haste to the gate and as we slid through the opening, I looked back.  The zoo keeper was still struggling to get the tiger back into the concrete house at the rear of the cage.  The last we saw of the keeper was him disappearing into the tiger house with the enraged tiger.  While all of this was happening a large crowd of Indians had gathered.  As we joined them they all applauded.  I wondered if this was a regular entertainment and also how the entertainment might conclude on certain days.  Meat was  quite expensive in India.

I've since heard stories of tigers causing human fatalities in zoos (even here in Hamilton zoo) and think I was rather unwise in Mysore.

1 comment:

  1. Just only one of your unwise decisions, I bet!!
    I woder if the keeper made it out??