Wednesday, 28 January 2009

New Year at Laohu Valley

My little Sisi cat was waiting for me when I arrived at Villa TigerLi around 7pm, on 22nd, and after a full day on the road from London. She showered me with welcoming affection throughout the night-rubbing her pretty little head against my cheeks & my hands, and leaning her lithe body against mine. 2008 was not a very good year for me, except that the tigers bred extremely well. I was looking forward to 2009, the year of the bullish Ox.

Our new Project Manager Cleve and his wife Bernice came on board a couple of weeks ago. Cleve worked in conservation for 30 years, including Kruger National Park. He will be in charge of our tiger project and our reserve management. Like his predecessors, he has not worked with tigers before, but is not shy to taking up the challenge.

Madonna's babies are just adorable! To my surprise, King Henry came very close to the fence checking me and my guests out, and then snarled at us. The next morning, when we were filming him, again he nosed up to about two meters from me where I was squatting down, and giving me a little snarl before turning away. I am very pleased with his progress of getting food out of the cage. We want our cubs to be wild and able to hunt on their own, but not too scared of humans so they get stressed in case we need to intervene for treatment, etc. Princess is still very shy, much like her mother when Madonna was little. She would run away to hide as soon as she hears noises from us, although her curiosity made her also nosing around us a little.

King Henry impressed me a great deal. He seems to take everything in stride and behaves like a little wise body, reminding me of Oliver Twist. Jen-B and Coco have overcome their shyness a great deal and become a lot more confident. Coco even dared to push his steps towards me when I was taking his photos. Hulooo has grown into a big boy, but still thinks he is a baby whenever humans are present, whining for attention and affection. As long as there are humans around, he would dedicate all his attention to us. Nevertheless, he and his brothers now live in complete harmony and it is such a delight to see them playing beautifully together!

Cathay has still not come into eostrus after five months of separation from her cubs and this is very strange. Zoo experts told me that once the mother is separated from their cubs, she would come into oestrus within two to three months. In the wild it is harder to observe the mating, pregnancy and births so it is difficult to tell the cycle. This means that no one can tell us why Cathay has still not come into eostrus after having been separated from her cubs. I could only presume this may be due to the fact that she could still sense the presence of her cubs in the vicinity, even if she could not see them.

The weather on Chinese New Year Day (Jan 26th) was cool and overcast, threatening with rain. Sadly there were only a few rain drops through the day. This was ideal hunting weather so I went to observe Cathay and TW. Since a few months ago, they have been put into the 40 hectare camp off and on, and they have reduced the number of blesbok from 20 to the current 6. At the beginning, they were found to have made 5 kills in just a few days. Now that the prey density has become very low, it has become very difficult to make further kills. Yet, I was hopeful based on past experiences.

I was disappointed, however, to find both tigers like sculpture guards at the gate, waiting for us, surely for food. I had to apply some strategies to lure them away so my and my staff's vehicles can enter the camp. Cathay and TW simply followed our trucks like shadows. I drove across the open grassland and the remaining 6 blesbok got skittish, starting to run. Cathay, raising her head from blind following, suddenly saw the prey and in a split second, her whole demeanour changed into hunting mode -body into stalking position, heading towards the antelopes. In the distance, I saw her galloping, trotting and walking amid the long grass. The scene was simply spectacular.

While Cathay continued for nearly two hours with her hunt, TigerWoods attempted only a couple of times and then laid down. In the end, Cathay was exhausted and took her frustration of a failed hunt out at TW and lashed out at him with all fours. TW did not want to submit and fought back, so the two had a Tango dance under the golden sunlight, in the long and lush grassland. It was breathtakingly beautiful.

Quan Li