Thursday, November 20, 2008

Singapore Zoo Tiger:Curiosity thrills at the cats' enclosure

Gawkers head for re-opened tiger exhibit at the Singapore Zoo

By Benson Ang
November 20, 2008

QUIETLY, the white tigers were allowed to prowl their enclosure again.

Click to see larger image
PREDATORS: The white tigers seem more menacing now, say some visitors. TNP PICTURES: KELVIN CHNG

There were no public announcements, no fanfare by the Singapore Zoo.

And still they came, curious over the cats.

The white tiger exhibit re-opened at the zoo yesterday and, when The New Paper visited it at 4pm, there was a sombre mood in the air.

From afar, it looked as if nothing had changed. We could still lean onto the wooden fence barricading the enclosure.

The exhibit looked the same, with all three tigers on the main rock. Two were lying down, and the other was pacing up and down the rocky stretch.

It was as if there never was a mauling of a man by two of the tigers there last Thursday, before scores of shocked onlookers.

Click to see larger image
SNAP: Visitors are back at the tiger exhibit and spending more time at it.

But a closer look revealed something different. The visitors, about 20 of them, were quieter. We saw only one woman who was in a light-hearted mood.

When she was posing for a photograph, she curled her fingers into a claw and mimicked a ferocious tiger.

She looked Asian but it is not known if she knew about the death of cleaner Nordin Montong, 32, or whether she was a tourist. When we approached her, even she walked away, embarrassed.

Apart from the children, most visitors appeared serious. They talked among themselves in hushed tones. Some did not venture past the sheltered area of the exhibit, preferring to watch the tigers from afar.

Even a group of students from the Singapore Sports School, who were there on a school trip, talked very little among themselves.

They were about the same age as the students who filmed Mr Nordin death. And they were all aware of the attack.

Student Prakash Arasu, 15, said: 'Before, the tigers were like normal animals. Now, we want to see more of them.'

He visited the enclosure earlier that afternoon on a guided tour. When the students were given some time to roam around, he returned to the white tiger enclosure with three friends.

'I feel like I was returning to the scene of a crime. The shadow of the guy's death still lingers in the air.

'The tigers look fiercer, scarier, now.'

Before that, Prakash last saw the white tiger enclosure two months ago. There were fewer people then, he said.

His friend, Bryan Ashwin, 14, who visits the zoo three times a year, also said that there were more people yesterday than on usual days 'because of the publicity, because of what happened'.

'Last time, people just walked by. Now, they're coming in, and pointing to where the guy jumped down, and at which angle he fell.

'I think of all the animals, everyone will spend the longest time watching the white tigers.'

Bryan added that he used to look upon the tigers as majestic creatures. 'But now, when the tiger looks at me, a chill runs down my spine.

'The way they behave now is different. It is as if they are expecting someone to enter their home again.'

He felt that the exhibit was opened too soon.

'It was a national shock. Someone should really take a look into the safety precautions of the enclosure before opening it again. I expected the exhibit to be closed for at least three weeks.'

Others, like German tourist Grit Leonhardt, 38, were indifferent. She said: 'The tiger is a predator. It's in its nature to attack someone in front of it. It's neither more ferocious, nor less.'

Mr Subash Chandran, curator of zoology at the zoo, said the re-opening was not publicised in any way.

'Visitor numbers have been healthy since the weekend owing to the start of the Singapore school holidays,' he said.

'We have increased patrols at the area and are also reviewing the possibility of setting up alarms at various points within the park so that visitors can sound the alarm should they need help.'

Curiosity thrills at the cats' enclosure
Electric New Paper, Singapore