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Bold and Beautiful

14 Sep 2020 By ANIRBAN RAY

‘Shathoo playfully ‘attacked’ me. A little bigger in size than a normal domestic cat, she took a strange liking for my camera and tripod’

Tigers – the amber and black stripped carnivorous beasts have provoked romantic poetry and gorgeous paintings, mused grand movies and bombastic TEX talks for generations, But I am sure, most of these creative persons have never imagined how it actually feels interacting with these wild felines while writing, painting or talking about tigers. 
I, too, had never imagined the same before, but now, I did touch, sense and feel these wild cats. And boy, did it feel good! 

Before social media warriors shame and attack me, I confirm that these tigers were neither doped nor drugged unlike most tourist parks. Neither were they meant for selfies for some cash or for posting them on Instagram with cheesy captions. My tigers were not ‘cute babies’ neither were they friendly or sleepy. 
This was my first ever encounter with tiger cubs. In fact, the first ever tiger cubs to be born in the sultanate is actually a matter of pride. 

Shathoo and Kapooth, sisters just three-months old, are ferocious, playful and aggressive. Born in June at the Al Namani Park, in Barka, these Royal Bengal Tigers are growing up fast and their instincts to attack is also revving up fast. 

Their human ‘father’, Ahmed al Balushi, is the only person that these pretty girls are obedient to. He said, “They are my children and they are obedient to me because they have immense trust in me. They need to be pampered and loved and held very fondly. Sometimes, I spend more time with them, than with my family, as they demand my love and attention all the time.”  

He added that his love for animals started decades ago and that he had always cherished a dream to start a zoo someday. After years of planning, Ahmed finally started the Al Namani Park where the main purpose is to educate people about different species of animals around the world. 

“Not all Omani families can afford to go out of the country and so children normally learn about animals from television or internet. The zoo is a place where they can have a direct interaction and sight of lions and tigers and understand more about these beautiful creatures,” he said. 

When I entered the zoo, I encountered Shathoo as her sister Kapooth was asleep. Shathoo playfully ‘attacked’ me. A little bigger in size than a normal domestic cat, she found a strange attraction to my camera and tripod. Curious and ‘playful’, the cub experimented with her newly formed teeth and claws, chewing and scratching my tripod as well as my own arms and limbs. 

She growled at me once with fiery yellow eyes and the sound or ‘roar’, as it is called, sounded like a heavy CC motorbike engine. The cub made sure to exhaust me in merely 30 minutes of running around and pouncing upon me from all sides. 

Both the girls need to be fed every three to four hours with half a kilogram of chicken each. Now, they themselves weigh almost 25kg each and Ahmed expects them to grow up very fast. 

“When they were babies, they were fed with special milk that was brought from the US, but now, with their teeth growing strong, I prepare boiled chicken for them. They are fed a high protein diet for a healthy body. Soon after their meal, they prefer to sleep which is a very normal trait for most cats,” he said. 

Shathoo and Kapooth are given full protection by a guard 24 hours a day. They are kept safe in a cage while sleeping in air-conditioned rooms. During the day, they run and play around Ahmed’s farm and keep visitors entertained with their playful pranks. 
Much as he loves the tiger cubs, Ahmed is also wary about their safety. He disclosed, that two years ago, three lions on the farm had been poisoned by unknown people and, so, he is always on the alert. 
Patting, holding and running around for two hours with the tiger cub, perhaps for the last time ever, I was left with fond memories to last a lifetime. But that’s not all, I also captured excellent slow-motion footage of the cub, besides getting a torn shirt and scratches on my arms and legs as mementos of a time spent uniquely.

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