Some of Nature’s Top Predators

They’re bodies are sleek, evolved to carry out quick stealth-like attacks in near silence on slacking prey. They kill thousands annually and their appetite for blood is unparalleled. And upon our arrival into Chiang Mai, we chanced upon seeing these top predators in action…unfortunately. Actually, we saw at least 64 of these guys in action, as that’s how many mosquitoes we killed in our room in a day. Turning on the fan caused 5 of them to scramble in all directions. Walking by the bed, 3 fly out from under it, 2 more make their appearance known from on top the blanket. Trying to lock in on one to smash it, meant ignoring others flying by your face in the commotion. They were everywhere, and if we stayed still, they attacked our exposed legs and arms unmercifully.
And let me say, I HATE mosquitoes. HATE them. The shrill buzz of its wings always finds me just as I’m about to nod off. And their bites on me don’t just result in a little red dot and a slight itch. When mosquitoes bite me, it’s like a mosquito clown is blowing balloon animals with my epidermis. My skin reacts into massive red irregular shaped patches with legs and tails shooting off them. I really can’t stress how much I HATE them. This also means then, that I take a real pleasure in killing them. Each clapping of my hands that ends with a little needle-nosed insect falling out of the sky brings me a smile.

The day after the day that became known as the “Massacre of 64,” I went out and bought a mosquito zapper. I’ve been looking forward to this for months, but have held off for not wanting to actually carry it around. It’s a tennis racket shaped instrument that has a small electrical current running through the “face” of the racket. See a mosquito, show it your backhand (remembering to follow through with your body) and zap! Mesquite BBQ mosquito. The prey has become the predator.

The same day I bought the zapper we went to see another of the world’s top predators. This one however is warm, cuddly and a welcome sight (under the right circumstances). We visited a place called Tiger Kingdom and spent about half an hour inside the enclosures with the equivalent of toddler and adult tigers. Mari entered and was in heaven. I was somewhere in the SF Zoo around Christmas time. But my fears subsided and we were able to sit and touch the tigers if they were lying down. When they were up and walking around us, we happily stepped back and observed. Being this close to these animals was a real highlight for us.
And it was a highlight that almost didn’t happen. We originally planned to volunteer in Kanchaniburi, Thailand for a month working with tigers at a place called Tiger Temple. We were both really amped to work with animals that had been illegally poached and couldn’t be returned to the wild. However, our research into the program brought up some concerns about the animal’s treatment (even in a country where animal conservation has a different meaning from our own) and we had decided we couldn’t support it.

And Tiger Kingdom isn’t perfect either. Assuming “perfect” is only the wild in protected areas, free from illegal logging, human interaction and hunting, this is far from perfect. The tigers are in enclosures and are fed chicken daily. They interact with humans daily, from birth. They will never be returned to the wild. But, that’s not the goal of the kingdom either. It’s a breeding program, keeping a species from extinction from a world that is far from perfect. And in a country without government commitment around conservation, this agency has naturally turned to tourism dollars to fill a void. And they do seem to treat the animals well, especially by South East Asian standards. They are cared for by handlers who have known them since birth. They look healthy and happy. And even if we’ll continue to hope for an ideal world, and hope that one day there will be large scale sanctuaries set up for these majestic animals, in the present we’ll happily settle for a step in its direction.

Posted: January 13th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Thailand | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Full Circle

Way back when (in April) we were in Costa Rica volunteering with giant leatherback sea turtles. It was nesting season, and at the time the only thing that would have made the experience more special would have been if we could have been present for hatching season. Mission complete! Because it turns out that it is hatching season for the green sea turtles here in Indonesia. Unfortunately, the handling, procedures, and overall treatment of the turtles falls short of ecological standards. In fact, it would probably make the research assistants and directors in Costa Rica (and other organizations) cringe. However, we were lucky enough to enter the hatchery and release the hatchlings back into the sea, which is something I’ve always wanted to do. A few days later, we got to see and do the photo op thing with another bunch of hatchlings in the middle of the day. The guy with the bucket of turtles, reached in a handed one to me. I hesitated, and tried to question if it was ok (which obviously to him it was since he was calling my name and holding it out). I’m not sure why they were kept in a dry bucket for hours until their release, but with the language barrier I was only able to be told that they were fine and did not need water. There’s something weird about sea turtles not needing water, but the guys were supposedly trained members of the World Wildlife Federation and who am I to challenge the way things are done on the island? I know conservation efforts and humans the world over are trying to help, but sometimes I wonder if in some instances it would be best to let nature take its course. So in a moment of weakness and deliberate selfishness, I took the turtle from him (ok, and another one out of the bucket so that turtle #1 wouldn’t be lonely and freaked out-my lame justification). It’s like when you are a kid, and your mom has taught you not to touch [fill in the blank], but one day it’s right there in front of you. No one else is in sight (although in my case there were witnesses). The chance may never come again. What do you do? As I got eye to eye with one of the babies, I felt lucky for experiencing a dream, saddened by the slim chances of it ever reaching adulthood, and guilty for the part I had so willingly played in it.

Green sea turtle hatchlings awaiting their release

Green sea turtle hatchlings awaiting their release

*Side note: I would have felt a little better about this, but my google search on handling hatchlings revealed that although there are all sorts of pictures of people holding baby turtles (even on the conservation websites), the majority state that this is a serious no-no. Apologies to all those conservationists and animal rights activists out there.

Posted: August 24th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Indonesia | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »