From Publishers Weekly
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Mum and I arrived as the new owners Wildlife Park in Devon for the first time at around six o’clock on the evening of 20 October 2006, and stepped out of the car to the sound of wolves howling in the misty darkness. My brother Duncan had turned on every light in the house to welcome us, and each window beamed the message into the fog as he emerged from the front door to give me a bone-crushing bear hug. He was more gentle with Mum. We had been delayed for an extra day in Leicester with the lawyers, as some last-minute paperwork failed to arrive in time and had to be sent up the M1 on a motorbike. Duncan had masterminded the movement of all Mum’s furniture from Surrey in three vans, with eight men who had another job to go to the next day. The delay had meant a fraught standoff in the entryway to the park, with the previous owner’s lawyer eventually conceding that Duncan could unload the vans, but only into two rooms (one of them the fetid front kitchen) until the paperwork was completed.
So the three of us picked our way in wonderment between teetering towers of boxes and into the flagstoned kitchen, which was relatively uncluttered and, we thought, could make a good center of operations. A huge old trestle table I had been hoarding in my parents’ garage for twenty years finally came into its own, and was erected in a room suited to its size. It’s still there as our dining-room table, but on this first night its symbolic value was immense. Some boxes and carpets Duncan had managed to store in the back pantry had just been flooded, so while he unblocked the drain outside I drove to a Chinese takeout I’d spotted on the way from Route A38, and we sat down to our first meal together in our new home. Our spirits were slightly shaky but elated, and we laughed a lot in this cold, dark, chaotic house on that first night, and took inordinate comfort from the fact that at least we lived near a good Chinese place.
That night, with Mum safely in bed, Duncan and I stepped out into the misty park to try to get a grip on what we’d done. Everywhere the flashlight shone, eyes of different sizes blinked back at us, and without a clear idea of the layout of the park at this stage, the mystery of exactly what animals lurked behind them added greatly to the atmosphere. We knew where the tigers were, however, and made our way over to one of the enclosures that had been earmarked for replacement posts to get a close look at what sort of deterioration we were up against. With no tigers in sight, we climbed over the stand-off barrier and began peering by flashlight at the base of the structural wooden posts holding up the chain-link fence. We squatted down and became engrossed, prodding and scraping at the surface layers of rotted wood to find the harder core, in this instance reassuringly near the surface. We decided it wasn’t so bad, but as we stood up were startled to see that all three tigers in the enclosure were now only a couple of feet away from where we were standing, ready to spring, staring intently at us. Like we were dinner.
It was fantastic. All three beasts — and they were such glorious beasts — had maneuvered to within pawing distance of us without either of us noticing. Each animal was bigger than both of us put together, yet they’d moved silently. If this had been the jungle or, more accurately in this case, the Siberian tundra, the first thing we’d have known about it would have been a large mouth around our necks. Tigers have special sensors along the front of their two-inch canines that can detect the pulse in your aorta. The first bite is to grab, then they take your pulse with their teeth, reposition them, and sink them in.
As they held us in their icy glares, we were impressed. Eventually, one of these vast, muscular cats — acknowledging that due to circumstances beyond their control (i.e., the fence between us), this had been a mere dress rehearsal — yawned, flashed those curved dagger canines, and looked away. We remained impressed.
We started back toward the house. The wolves began their eery night chorus, accompanied by the sounds of owls — there were about fifteen on site — the odd screech of an eagle, and the nocturnal danger call of the vervet monkeys as we walked past their cage. This was what it was all about, we felt. All we had to do now was work out what to do next.From the Hardcover edition. –This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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