In northern China there’s a tiger park. Like so many things in China, it’s nothing like you might expect. To start with, there’s a menu at the gate.
These aren’t animals to take home and domesticate. They’re fodder. Victims to be released on your tour.
“Let’s get a cow,” I said.
Michelle just glared at me.
“But this is nature in its purest form,” I said. “It’s the circle of life. It’s the maintenance and renewal of the microcosm. Come on. So how about a sheep?”
She kept glaring.
We settled for a pheasant and two strips of beef. They didn’t actually hand us a pheasant — although that does come later. Instead the vendor made a note of our tour bus number, and we crowded on.
When I say crowded, I mean it. They crammed this bus full of several dozen Chinese tourists and us. Every window was jammed with faces and cameras, and we struggled to see a thing.
Although to be fair, there wasn’t much to see. Some tigers, some snow…
…and lots of desolation.
There were also a few ligers, so inbred they couldn’t move. At least that’s what my seat mate assured me.
Then the bus stopped. It was time for the feeding.
The first feeding was quick. A jeep pulled up alongside us. The door opened. Someone threw out a bird then slammed the door shut. The bird flapped its wings once, a tiger lunged, and she was gone.
“That’s your bird,” said the tour guide.
All I could see was a tiger walking away. Two strips of beef followed, and were gone as quickly.
But then came the second feeding.
The tour ends at a raised walkway, concrete zigzagging through cages and pits of tigers. It’s far below freezing in Harbin now, but people moved slowly. They crowded around cells of sad emaciated tigers taking photos.
And that’s when the old woman walked by. She pushed a plastic bucket of clucking, crowded birds. She was calling out “Chickens, 10 kuai chickens!” Ten kuai is a buck and a half.
A small boy ran to her and bought one. He was maybe ten years old. As he held the chicken by its wings, his father lifted him. He could now reach over the tall fence separating the people from the tigers.
The boy held the animal as far over the fence as he could, and waited for the tigers to notice. One sauntered over. It was a massive beast. It paced back and forth, watching the bait from the corner of its eye, then lunged into the air.
The boy yanked the chicken back, laughing.
His father laughed. His mother laughed. His mother steadied the videocamera and kept filming. I looked at Michelle, and she was horrified. This boy was going to lose his hands.
He held the shrieking chicken out again, as more tigers gathered. The same tiger jumped again, jaws open, and slammed into the fence. The boy had pulled back the chicken again. And again. And again. Meanwhile a crowd of laughing and videotaping families gathered to enjoy the show.
Finally, the boy tired of his fun. He let the tiger seize the chicken from his hands. His father set him down and patted his back while the tiger started pulling the feathers away with its teeth. The chicken struggled for until its eyes went grey. As the dismemberment began, it was finally over.
I wish I could say that I disapproved of every aspect of this. I was, after all, wearing a PETA t-shirt under my six layers of clothes. Another layer was my vegan-proclaimation shirt.
But I couldn’t resist.
I bought a chicken as well. It was, after all, only 10 kuai.
(Big thanks to Peter H for the menu photo. I was so overwhelmed I didn’t even think to take a picture.)
Harbin Siberian Tiger Park, Heilongjiang