It’s 10.05am in the morning and I’m standing in a queue. But this queue is a little different to your average grocery store check-out or inner city traffic jam. For one thing, there’s stacks more women and men with prams than I think I’ve ever seen together in any single spot before in my life. But the most unusual thing about this queue is that nobody seems to be sighing agitatedly, grumbling loudly at their wrist-watch. Instead, there is an almost tangible buzz of excitement and anticipation hovering above this group of people who are patiently gathered here. And that’s probably because most of them are about to see Taronga’s Sumatran Tiger cubs for the very first time.
Of the throng packed into Taronga Zoo’s Sumatran Tiger exhibit this morning, many are little kids who wouldn’t be any older than five, standing on tip-toe with their hands and faces pressed up against the glass, competitively scanning the enclosure for a first glimpse of orange-and-black fur. And because I wasn’t enough of an early-bird to arrive here before them, I don’t have an excellent view of the enclosure; but if you think that means I’m not going to know the exact second the tiger cubs are set loose in their exhibit, well, there’s not even a whisker of a chance you’re right.
The simultaneous gasps and squeals punctuated with a healthy dollop of “ooh’s” and “aah’s” suddenly erupts as the crowd gently surges forward to move closer to the glass, which I’m fairly certain means the tiger cubs are officially out and about. Last time I was here, the two male cubs had been fast asleep in the jungle brush, while only the female cub (who Keepers have been referring to as “Cub 2” until the results of a forthcoming naming competition are unveiled) had been actively pestering mum, Jumilah. Not so today.
Unlike me, who at this point is still waiting for my morning mocha to kick in and boost me out of a state of drowsy befuddlement, these tiger cubs are clearly at their most active in the morning. The three of them pounce all over each other, clearly alert and surprisingly nimble, with their tiny tails curling in the air like stripy orange snakes.
While the triplets’ mum, Jumilah, lazily soaks up some sun at the front of the enclosure - clearly no stranger to the spotlight as she stares regally back at the herd of visitors watching her – the three little balls of energy take their play session to the back of the enclosure, where there’s bamboo and dense leaves to add to the fun.
Craning my neck to keep sight of the cubs, a little girl next to me remarks to her mother, “Look! The tigers are playing hide and seek!” And the funny thing is, they really look like they are! The cubs separate and venture off to different places – behind tree roots, or inside leafy branches on the ground – and then, all of a sudden, another cub springs up and pounces on its sibling, before a wrestling match with lots of rolling around in the dirt and pawing at each other ensues. Not exactly the way we played the game in my day, but close enough.
Watching this scene, it becomes clear why these tiny tigers have such an appeal, for children especially. There’s a definite affinity to be felt there... in the carefree nature of playtime, the mischievousness of sibling rivalry, the disregard for getting one’s coat grubby and especially the enjoyment derived from jumping all over, and no doubt exasperating, mum. Maybe that’s one big reason why these little cubs are so popular? Watching them somehow awakens the little kid in all of us, even if the adult is still half asleep, waiting for her morning caffeine hit to kick in.
Media Intern, Emma