Thursday, December 1, 2016

2016 Connecting with Animals Calendar – December Story



Beautiful Kemala enjoying her Christmas tree

For the past couple of years – ever since the Amur tiger exhibit was co-opted to make room for the giant pandas – the Toronto Zoo has had only Sumatran tigers on display. Tigers in general are the largest of all feline species; however, the Sumatrans are the smallest of all the tigers (albeit with the largest canines). This is not to imply that Sumatran tigers are small, but rather to point out how impressively huge the largest of all tigers are. The smaller stature of the Sumatrans is of great benefit to them when they are navigating through the dense rainforests in which they live. Their orange and black stripes are an excellent camouflage as well, giving the illusion of beams of light alternating with patches of shadow on the forest floor. 



Hari enjoying a snowy day
There's another important reason that tigers who ordinarily dwell in colder climates are larger: it's known as Bergmann's rule and it applies to most species. But, as you can see, the tigers at the Toronto Zoo have no trouble handling the winters in this latitude. Sometimes I am asked why Sumatran tigers aren't bothered by our Canadian winters, and there's one pretty simple answer to that question: they've never been to Sumatra. They don't know any better! And cats, especially, have a long history of being able to adapt to almost anything nature can throw at them. If you look at the photo on the left and compare it to the one above, it would be easy to think that I've confused one of our tigers with the other. But I've checked very carefully and I can assure you that the tiger representing December 2016 in my calendar is, in fact, Kemala – who is considerably smaller than Hari. The top photo was taken at the very beginning of a February that eventually broke all sorts of local records for low temperatures, so Kemala had developed a very healthy beard, mane, and overall fur coat. Hari's photo, on the other hand, was taken early in a different winter and the temperatures had been fairly moderate to that point. 



Kemala's frosty breath catches the sunlight
Hari and Kemala spend most of their days outside in the winter months, because their dens have a heating system built into them and because they simply prefer it. They do go inside overnight, but come the next morning you will most often find them lounging in their warm straw, or chasing an elusive sunbeam on top of their dens, or even just burying their faces into a fresh fall of snow. I think I might actually prefer seeing them in the winter; the orange of their fur is a striking counterpoint to the white snow, or the dull brown of the dead grass. And, of course, they are both incredibly photogenic: if you can eliminate the fence surrounding their enclosures, it's extremely difficult – if not downright impossible – to take a bad picture of either one of them. Hopefully, once the pandas have departed in early 2018, we will re-acquire an Amur tiger or two who will majestically prowl their own exhibits at the other end of the Zoo. One can never see too many tigers in a day, that's my motto. Well, it should be my motto, at least. 


Tiger...of the woods
Hari's full name is Harimau kayu which translates from Malayan into English as...Tiger Wood(s). All I can say is: we didn't name him. We tend to call him just "Hari", which more or less means "Ti". But he's truly a magnificent beast and he and Kemala are centrepieces of the Indomalayan boardwalk which leads from the rainforest pavilion up to the African savanna portion of the Toronto Zoo. They are almost always on display; if you are extremely fortunate (usually this only happens during the spring or summer) you might happen upon a keeper demonstration or even some new enrichment items for one or both of the tigers. But if not, it really doesn't matter. I could stand in the window of the Indo pavilion and just watch them sleep for hours. In fact, I'm pretty sure I've done exactly that on more than one occasion. 

But then, maybe that's just me. I am, after all, a "cat guy".


Well, that wraps up this year. Thank you all for joining me on this journey! I intend to do this again next year, but I hope to be more timely in my posts. Also...there will be twice as many of them. If you don't know why yet, then please check out my 2017 Calendar page for a sneak preview. 

What a year this has been. If you feel the need to burn anything that references 2016 when it's over, I don't blame you a bit. But let me make this one small suggestion: maybe keep the photos and just burn the calendar portion. :)

Best of luck for the New Year! See you in 2017.

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