Dreamer, wordsmith, mum of two - I enjoy the outdoors, good food and good company. Subscribe to my articles to follow what I've been up to, and like those articles you want to see more of so I can tailor what I write to my audience.
As of Sunday 20 August 2017, the new Sumatran tiger enclosure at Taronga Zoo is open. It opened with very little forewarning - I was aware it was coming in 2017, but despite keeping a close eye on the website, had no idea it meant now. As one of the fortunate few who stumbled across the exhibit on the day it opened, I can confirm that it is well worth a visit.
While the opening day queue was scarily long, it moved at a brisk pace. Similar to the signage you get at theme parks, they have markers along the line to say "30 minute wait from this point". We found the wait from the 30 minute mark was actually only probably about 20 minutes.
Why is there a queue this long to get in to see tigers? Sumatran tigers are critically endangered, with estimates of between 500 and 600 tigers left in the wild, but that isn't the reason. The exhibit is an immersive experience designed to make the visitor stop and see these beautiful creatures in a more dynamic way. I have never seen an exhibit quite like it (and I've been to many zoos, including the Singapore Night Zoo and Tiger Island at Dreamworld).
The virtual plane flight simulation looks pretty realistic
The first part of the exhibit is a theatrette that is decked out to look like the interior of an old-fashioned freight plane. The 'plane windows' screen a five-minute movie of the view from a plane coming down from the sky and landing in Indonesia, and it's not unrealistic. Actually, this was my five-year old's favourite part of the whole exhibit - which is not to say the tiger's themselves aren't special (they clearly are), but is a testament to how well Taronga have accommodated kids in designing this exhibit.
After landing, you pile out of the plane and find yourself in an Indonesian village.
The area is split into different enclosures which the tigers can walk a gangplank between. It is designed to allow close proximity to the tigers, and has the unusual feature of half a jeep sticking through the glass barrier, which visitors can climb inside. If you get extremely lucky, you may experience having nothing but a windscreen between you and a Sumatran tiger. I'm told that heated mats have been used on the jeep to encourage the tigers to go and sit on it. Tigers are just big stripy cats, after all!
Alas, we didn't get to experience this ourselves while we were in the jeep - the tiger sitting nearest us was hiding behind a box with only the tip of its tail showing. However, there are four tigers currently in the exhibit, and one was quite happily lying in its bamboo hut for all passers-by to gawk at.
The exhibit ends with an interactive shopping simulation, that shows which products we buy at the supermarket contain sustainable palm oil, and asks visitors to commend the companies who use this kind of palm oil, rather than unsustainable palm oil. The production of unsustainable palm oil is linked to the destruction of the Sumatran tigers' habitat. This gives visitors the opportunity to think more carefully about how as consumers, our actions can impact the environment and affect creatures such as these, and to do something positive to help.
The exhibit occupies a surprisingly large area and is beautifully designed. Many zoos do a good job of displaying the animals and ensuring they are comfortable, but go no further towards explaining the story behind them. This goes a step beyond that and leads the visitor on a memorable experience that puts a context around tigers and their environment, and how our choices as consumers can have a big impact on their survival. If you just want to see tigers and move on, then the queuing and extra space used to create the feel of Indonesia and the palm oil links might seem wasteful. However, if you are happy to engage in a slightly different experience from the usual zoo format, I think this is a wonderful addition to Taronga Zoo. As an inclusion to zoo entry, it certainly is a bargain!
Where to find it in the zoo
It's next to the amphitheatre where the bird show happens.
Take your kids to the toilet before you start queuing to get in.