Photographers' Blog

The tiger, the pig and the cage

March 7, 2013

Sumatra Island, Indonesia

By Beawiharta

Over a three-week period in February, I covered two very different animal-related assignments in Indonesia – the slaughtering of snakes in West Java and the preservation of the endangered tiger in Sumatra.

In West Java, Wakira along with his 10 workers kill hundreds of snakes each day for their skin at his slaughterhouse in Cirebon. While in Sumatra, real estate tycoon Tomy Winata saves and releases tigers into the wild at his Tambling Wildlife Nature Conservation. I didn’t enjoy the snake slaughterhouse assignment because snakes are dangerous and disgusting, but I really liked visiting the tigers in Tambling.

After a nearly 90 minute flight on a Super Puma helicopter from Indonesia’s capital Jakarta, we landed at the Tambling Wildlife Nature Conservation on the southern tip of Sumatra Island. The 45,000 hectare forest reserve can only be reached by boat or plane. As soon as we reached the Sumatran Tiger Rescue Centre on our golf cart, we could immediately hear the roars of the tigers. Seeing three ferocious tigers up close was shocking to me. At times, it was difficult to move and I trembled in fear as the view from my camera lens made me forget that they were actually caged up.

As I was taking pictures of Tommy Winata, the owner of TWNC, he gave a high five to one of the tigers, who will be released next year. After taking pictures and blowing them up on my 5d screen, I could see the tiger’s face and his look was friendly, not threatening. It could be that the tiger knows when Tommy is around it usually means its feeding time. Tigers get fed live pigs every three days.

TWNC has released five tigers since 2009, while eight are still under their care. One more tiger will be released next year. This was feeding day, so I chose the largest tiger to take pictures of. Despite being caged up, he still maintained the instincts of being in the wild. I waited for the animal keeper to feed the tiger. The keeper grabbed the feet of the pig, which typically weighs between 10 and 12 kilograms, and released the animal into the cage. The tiger ran toward the pig and lifted his paw in what seemed like an attempt to kill his prey. But in fact, the tiger was playing with the animal before killing it.

The tiger turned around and walked away.

Oh I didn’t get pictures. It happened a few times. I was still waiting, then the tiger stopped in front of the pig, stuck out his tongue as if he was savoring the moment. Surprisingly, he looked at me like he knew I was taking pictures. Then he walked away. He didn’t kill the pig.

Shortly after that moment, the tiger keeper Rizal cut the rope and the pig ran away. The tiger caught him around 100 yards from me, hidden away in the tall grass. I couldn’t see how the tiger killed his prey. I just saw the carcass.

Rizal said “This is the secret of animals; If you meet a tiger in the jungle don’t run, he will catch and kill you. Just stand and look at his eyes, then usually they will walk away.”

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Feeding live animals to predators has not been acceptable procedure at accredited U.S. zoos and conservation centers since 1960. The last U.S. institution to be caught doing this, the former Steel City Petting Zoo in Florida, was closed in 1996 for violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act. The restoration of blackfooted ferrets, wolves, various rare hawk species, and other predators to the wild has involved giving them the opportunity to learn to hunt their natural prey in controlled natural habitats, but this was a very different procedure from just tossing them farm animals who had no chance of escape and survival.

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