By half past two lunch was over and we were requested to go outside where three guides were waiting, two Flemish speaking and one French speaking. We were free to pick the group of our choice. Although Flemish is my mother tongue, I joined the French speaking group for two reasons: 1. Most of my ‘favourite’ colleagues are French speaking. 2. It was the smallest group and therefore much easier to interact with the guide.
It was a chilly and drizzly afternoon and I was glad having donned my winter anorak. Some colleagues hadn’t taken the same precaution and were shivering with cold while our guide, who introduced himself as Paul, enlightened us on the history of the Zoo. One by one the groups set out on the backstage visit, each taking a different route in order not to bump into each other.
Our little group on our way - backstage - to see the tigers.
Our first stop was the tiger compound. The two large cages in which the tigers are kept overnight were empty except for one dead rabbit; a sight that upset the fainthearted among us (I’m not of them, btw.). Paul explained that, in order to recreate the real living conditions as much as possible, the tigers are fed four days out of seven. When they live in the wild they sometimes go three or more days without food too. On the ‘feeding days’ the tigers are given horse meat which is nice and lean. Beef and pork are too fat and the felines would soon get overweight if were to have it.
We asked why there was a dead rabbit lying in one of the cages. Paul said that on ‘foodless’ days the rabbit acted as some kind of bait to incite the tigers to come in at night. I wouldn’t like to be around when two hungry tigers throw themselves on that tiny rabbit!
Our next stop was the vet’s operating room. We weren’t allowed in, but got a good look at the operating table through the large window. The equipment looked rather dated. Logical, if you know that it’s former ’people hospital’ material that has been donated to the Zoo. The operating table will support animals up to 60 kg. You couldn’t operate a tiger, buffalo, giraffe or elephant on it.
Our guide, showing the jar containing the dead(ly) viper.
While we were examining the room, Paul unlocked a door in a sidewall and took out a jar filled with alcohol. At the bottom lay a dark brown, white spotted coil. Our guide explained that it was a dead Palestinian viper. It had been brought in by the police who had found it the home of a family with two small children! The parents had kept it as a pet … a very dangerous pet though, as this particular species is considered as one of the deadliest snakes on earth. Those parents were really irresponsible! The antidote for the viper's venom costs 10,000 euro and can only be kept for one year. The direction of the Zoo therefore decided that it was too dangerous and expensive to keep this specimen, and it was put down. Yet another innocent victim of modern society in which it‘s fashionable to keep wild animals as pets.
Paul produced more jars containing very obscure items. Some were too gruesome to look at like a 3 inch baby kangaroo that had died in its mother’s pouch. There was one rather funny anecdote though: a jar filled with coins! These had been 'recovered' from the stomach of a seal. Apparently people tend to throw coins in the pool in which the seals swim. One seal had mistaken the shiny coins for fish … till the weight of the coins literally proved to be too heavy on the animal’s stomach … preventing it to surface to catch its breath. If the vet hadn’t operated on the poor animal, it would have … drowned!
The viper, the seal … all perfect examples of the silliness of humans towards animals.