Taking the tiger by the tail


PHNOM TAMAO, CAMBODIA – Here in Cambodia we are taking the tiger by the tail, figuratively and literally: yesterday Andrew and I touched a full-grown tiger at the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre. The six tigers were in holding cages when we visited, some pacing, some lying around. Encouraged by the keeper as he stroked on tiger’s head through the bars of the cage, I said to Roo, ‘Come on, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.’ And so we stroked the striped tail that dangled within reach. The tiger noticed us, rose to his feet and eyed us squarely, but did not growl or bite. I can only hope for a similar outcome from our metaphorical taking of tiger’s tails, too.

Tamao Tash, Ang & deer

Phnom Tamao is 44 km from Phnom Penh in Takeo Province. Most of the animals there have been rescued from illegal trading to restaurants, others relocated from a dodgy zoo in Seam Riep. Some show signs of mistreatment–a samba deer missing a leg, a stork with a broken wing, Chhouk the baby elephant who lost part of one foot in a snare–but the place is heartening. The animals are well cared for with room to move and the centre has a successful captive breeding program, some of the animals being rare and endangered. Khmer people living in the area make their livelihood selling fruit for visitors to feed to the animals (where permitted), doubling up as guides. We picked a young boy wearing a yellow soccer shirt inside-out called ‘Lucky’ to show us around but ended up with an entourage including Nan the driver, another guy selling fruit and a curious young girl called Chanthou.

Tamao stork, Tash & Roo

We saw great adjutant storks with shaved heads like the old men and women caretakers at the shrines and wats. We walked among samba deer, patted them and fed a bunch of bananas to one buck with an impressive set of horns. We saw monkeys, of course, some riding the backs of the deer in an effort to steal bananas. Tash enjoyed patting the pretty common deer, which were about her size, but had a too-close encounter with a breastfeeding gibbon who grabbed her hand and tried to pull her towards the cage. Tash cried, the gibbon whooped and I have to admit the rest of us laughed.

We saw three types of crocodile including one with a baby on its back. We saw yellow-throated martens and caught a glimpse of a mongoose. We saw lots of sun bears (‘teddy bears’ to Tash) and paid the fruit seller to fling them some green coconuts so we could watch as they cracked them open and drank the coconut water. We saw Asiatic black bears (also called ‘moon bears’), elephants including little Chhouk and, of course, the tigers. On the way out we also saw an array of eagles, kites, owls and pea fowl.

It was a pretty good morning, which made it harder to understand why Tasha totally lost it when we returned home. She was so upset, it upset me, too, though I know the best course of action when she goes feral is to stay calm and rational. Tash has been throwing whopper tantrums lately, and I’m not sure if it’s due to culture shock, or because she’s two, or both. I remember Suzie worrying about her two-and-a-half year old’s behaviour when they first moved to Chiang Mai; and Roo just received an email from a friend saying his two-and-a-half-year-old has been throwing tantrums since they arrived in Nagaland, where his mother is from. Whilst somewhat reassuring, I’m keen to hear from other people who have/had had two year olds: Is this what happens when you take a toddler out of his/her comfort zone? Or is this a stage they go through, regardless of what exotic Asian destinations their parents drag them off to?

Taking Tash for dinner is a struggle, requiring maximum effort on our part to distract her from how long the food is taking to come and/or how restricted her movements are by virtue of our proximity to the traffic and/or the vulnerability of the restaurant in terms of the damage she could inflict. Roo and I have made the mistake of trying to eat with Tash, which means bolting down our food because she’s gone feral and leaving the restaurant or cafe in a sheepish rush. More recently we’ve taken her out to eat, come back to the guest house, put her to bed and then had dinner ourselves–therefore mostly eating where we’re staying. Fortunately the food at the Boddhi Tree Del Gusto is great.

Last night after the usual testing of our patience at Frizz Cafe on the riverfront, Tash ate a hearty serve of Cambodia-style fried rice with chicken and drank most of a small bottle of water before we piled into a tuk-tuk to drive back to the guest house. Sitting on my knee, Tasha took my face in her hands and then Roo’s and embraced us both together and showered us with kisses. We all sang ‘Chicken rice, chicken rice’ to the tune of ‘Frere Jacques’, and then Tash sang ‘Twinkle, twinkle’ and ‘Happy Birthday to Daddy’ at full volume, interspersed with laughing all the way home.

The contrast between this behaviour and the tantrums makes me wonder that she’s the same child!

Speaking of children, happy news yesterday of the birth on 30 January of Matt and Sally’s as yet unnamed son. Born in the Year of the Golden Pig, scraping in just before the Year of the Rat starts with Chinese New Year on 7 February. Clearly a smart boy and, hopefully for Matt and Sally’s sake, not one prone to tantrums.


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5 Responses to “Taking the tiger by the tail”

  1. Helen Morgan Says:

    Very impressed about the tiger’s tail! Absolutely a once in a lifetime opportunity – it’s how I felt when offered a python to hold in Botswana – really, how could you not?!

    I’ve really been avoiding the computer, but have been reading your blog, impressed that you’re finding the time and energy to do it, complete with photographs on Flickr!

    Love to all.

  2. angelasavage Says:

    Helen, I have you to thank for getting me started on flickr and for helping me to work out the technology to maintain the blog and link it to photos – THANK YOU. And to be honest, I make the time to blog because it’s good for my mental health 🙂

  3. sooz Says:

    Mostly I think kids (eventually) work out how to modify their own behaviour and for parents it’s all about endurance and strategically managing situations to reduce the impact of the behaviour while it lasts. Sadly that totally sucks in the short term so most of us resort to totally useless tactics to effect change. Human nature I guess. And if it wasn’t travel that brought it on, it could just as likely be anything else. Good luck for the marathon.

    But it sounds pretty good to be getting about and doing stuff. Patting tigers and feeding the animals – what joy! Hope things continue well.

  4. Vanessa Says:

    What a lovely post and how amazing for Tash to be patting Tigers in Cambodia. Her tantrums sounds like a perfectly normal two year old – in fact Andy and I clearly recall a whole year between 2 1/2 and 3 1/2 where we’d go out in shifts to avoid taking Ella to shopping centres, restaurants or enclosed public places – and we hadn’t even moved suburbs let alone cross countries!

    Thank you for sending back my burgundy maternity dress – it was a complete surprise (I knew I’d lent it to one of my favourite people but couldn’t remember who!) and perfect timing. We have 10 weeks to go!


  5. angelasavage Says:

    Hey, thanks Sooz and Ness for the feedback. There is comfort in knowing it’s not just us (much as I wouldn’t wish it on you, either). Tash enjoyed ‘new childcare’ yesterday and definitely seems happier since we moved into the house; her appetite has returned, too.

    Ness, the fact that you and Andy are having a third child makes me realise it must all become manageable at some point – otherwise, how else would you have the energy! We are keeping you and your baby close in our thoughts.

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