Thursday, 25 October 2007

Purrfect partners

Waking up to the sound of Lions roaring is not normal – especially when you are in Kent. However the rural town of Smardon is home to the Wildlife Heritage Foundation’s Marley Farm – a big cat sanctuary which has a multitude of cats from tigers to snow leopards and ocelots. When I heard that they were moving some of the tigers to start a breeding programme I knew I had to be there, camera in hand.

Marley Farm is lucky enough to have a new and spacious breeding centre. Space is the key as the female tiger; Puna in this case, needs room to build dens for her cubs. At Marley Farm three tigers in total were to be moved: Nias and Puna, the happy couple to be, and Indy, Puna’s friend. The reason for breeding is to boost the dwindling numbers of Sumatran tigers – only about 300. There is a hope that if breeding continues then eventually, generations down the line, some tigers can be released in to the wild.

The plan was to start the day early so I went down with a friend and Marley Farm volunteer Briony who had organised for us to stay the night. We slept well – apart from the roaring! For some reason lions feel that they have to roar at dawn and dusk so at 4AM they were up and about. From the short distance from their pen to our snug beds in a mobile home came a very deep, long roar. A very odd feeling!

A few hours later we were all up and ready for the day. More of the volunteers had come to help with the task and Marley Farm was bustling with excited faces. Some of the keepers from the sanctuaries sister, The Paradise Wildlife Park, were also there to lend and hand and to also share expert knowledge in handling the massive creatures.

Nias, a Sumatran male, was the first tiger to be moved. This involved a military style operation. A half ton tiger on the loose is not what you need! Nias was coaxed in to a large metal crate which was expertly sealed and then loaded on to a forklift trunk and carried the short distance to the new centre. Nias arrived perfectly with no problems and took to his new surrounding instantly.

Puna was transferred next and like the first all was well. As it was such a small trip for the animals there was little point in tranquilising them and putting them under unnecessary strain. Puna was a little frightened by the move but as soon as her friend and mentor Indy arrived she soon calmed and relaxed. Indy is known to be a pro mover and wasn’t fazed a bit.

All three animals did very well in the move and their reunion was like no other! We also did some hand feeding with the other animals and were able to get as up and personal with some of natures impressive beasts. I was just lucky enough to capture it all and more for ITV Local. Talk about a day job!

Click here to see the day unfold.

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