(Note: The latter parts of this post will reference animal-on-animal violence.)
This past weekend was my very experience with a truly uniquely Harbin place. Enter the Dongbeihu Yuanlin—Siberian Tiger Park.
I was almost too excited about going to see these tigers. I love tigers. More than I should. If the honey badger wasn’t my spirit animal, the tiger would be. This will likely be the highlight of my trip. I love them *so* much.
Okay, now that I’ve got that little bit of fanboy-ing out of the way, I can tell you this stuff: The park is on the northern outskirts of Harbin and is practically a must-see if you go there. With only a few hundred Siberian tigers left in the wild, this park is doing everything it can to regrow the population. According to Wikipedia, the park only had 8 tigers upon opening, and if that’s true, then, yeah, they’re rebuilding the population big time.
We bought our tickets and get onto our tour bus really quickly, and my goodness those buses took no chances: steel bar cages around the wheels (which I suspect are for the tigers’ protection more than ours) and big, sturdy metal grates over the windows (which I certainly hope were for my protection). When the afore-mentioned guide talked about their ferocity, he wasn’t kidding. In the slightest. At all.
The tour began safari-style, with us entering the park to see all of the tigers. At times, my tourmates were more exciting than the tigers, squealing excitedly when they caught a tiger in the bushes on their cameras. After the standard tigers came the diversity area, with jaguars, leopards, and cheetahs (oh, my!). (I had to do it; I’m so sorry.) The most exciting part was their healthy liger population. Go google them and tell me you don’t want one. They’re massive and adorable.
Then, the grand finale. This is where the squeamish should look away.
Feeding time. We saw this two separate times in our excursion. Once was while on the bus, when they brought out a baby lamb and dropped it out by the tigers. The baby was carried off very quickly, met by the raucous applause of my 15-or-so tourmates.
The second was rougher. In the walk-and-see section (on elevated walkways with big barriers, don’t worry) of the tour, a lady bought and threw a duck (because, yes, live animals are available for purchase for this purpose) into a pond with about twenty tigers. This wasn’t over as quickly, since the tigers couldn’t see underwater. It became like hide-and-seek, with the duck popping up for air, being spotted by the tigers, and diving back under. The whole ordeal lasted about 10 minutes, before the duck was caught and carried off.
I won’t lie. I got caught up in the excitement. It’s hard not to with one hundred other people cheering and screaming. I found myself cheering simultaneously for the duck and the tigers in some perverse version of The Most Dangerous Game. That’s the effect of mass culture and possibly the most interesting part of the park: this sport is encouraged, so people encourage it in return.
This park could certainly something that couldn’t exist in my home, the U.S., and I’m definitely glad to have seen it.
I know that it will be the tendency of many to dismiss the most controversial aspect of this park as sadistic, and I am not one to say it isn’t. I would, however, beg of you to consider this before taking too high of a moral ground: the Chinese popular sports are ping pong, badminton, and basketball; all of which feature very low rates of injury to humans. That’s something that can’t always be said of American popular sports.