A debate has raged for years over whether the Harbin Tiger "Preserve" is either cruel exploitation or safeguarding the last few Siberian Tigers left (plus a few geographically confused African lions) I took a visit to make my own mind up.
At 100 yuan entry (90 plus another 10 that I couldn't work out the purpose of) and a lengthy taxi ride out across the Songhua Bridge (Reminds me of Grand Theft Auto 3..you'd have to see it)
I immediately get the distinct feeling the tigers aren't the only ones being exploited.
Apparently (and I didn't see this) they do a roaring (sorry) trade in Tiger Bone Wine at a crazy 150 RMB (about £15) per small glass. If this is true then that pretty much solves my dilemma on the spot, although it's supposedly warming and at -28c I might have been tempted.
First up is the traditional Chinese art of ticket obtaining.
I wrestled my way to the front using my elbows and got to the little plastic booth in record time before getting yanked back by the hair. Mustering up some energy despite the numbing chill I launched forward again and stood squarely on my offender's foot. Flicking the guy's pink 100 yuan note dismissively into the snow I replaced it with my own and an unseen hand produced a ticket through the hole.
5 minutes later, sharing a flask of green tea with the man I'd attacked we boarded an old bus for the tiger safari. He chuckled and pointed me out to his friends while outside, within clawing distance a large cat looked on with presumably raised eyebrows. Large teeth and stripes vs an Engrish Alien in Harbin..No chance.
It seems no one at Safari park training school explained the concept of actually seeing the creatures to the Chinese. We bombed through the enclosure at around 60mph narrowly avoiding large orange paws while the locals smoked and flicked ash through the barred window. Within ten minutes our F1 tour was over and aside from a long cold walk past some cages that was that.
Whether or not it is preserving these rare animals it doesn't make much sense to have lions there. A Lion's natural habitat is NOT -28c!
I'm no expert. Some of the cats were pacing up and down in an agitated manner but that's what they do isn't it?
I originally wrote 'Every Han for Himself' for the now closed Travelpod site. In January 2014 I was lucky enough to able to tick off a long held bucket list ambition by visiting both Beijing and the Harbin Ice Festival.
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