One cool summer morning in 1999 I decided to head out the OKC Zoo early to photograph the then new white tiger exhibit. A lot had been made of the newly rebuilt habitat. The push was on to turn the zoo experience into something more akin ot a safari in the wild. The tiger exhibit featured trails that wound through tiger territory, surrounded by tall reeds like you were stalking big game in the Indian rain forest.
Because of the late July heat the Zoo offered early hours so you could see the animals before retired in the shade or indoors. I talked my son Adam, 12 at the time, into going along with me and carrying some of my camera gear. He was always game to go do something fun with me. We were at the zoo gates right at daybreak, before the park opened, and were the first ones through the door. I had a backpack full of gear and a large tripod with my Nikkor 600mm F4 lens swung over my shoulder. Adam carried a smaller pack of lighting equipment. We hiked out through the zoo in quiet silence. No people there, it was just after daybreak, a light breeze was blowing, and this was going to make for PERFECT pictures.
As we made it to the Tiger exhibit I thought “awesome”. The trail meandered through the high reeds, winding through the dense undergrowth in a narrow pathway. “Cool” we both said at about the same time, Adam a few paces behind.
We were enjoying the walk through what seemed like an empty, wild forest and rounded the corner to a small clearing. I wasn’t paying much attention until WHAM – a huge 7′ tall white tiger on his hind legs slams into the fence about 2 feet from my face! CRAPPPP! Startled out of my socks, I fell over backwards into Adam, dumping camera gear and tripod unceremoniously on the ground, knocking Adam back and falling on top of him. It seems this huge white tiger had been just waiting for his unsuspecting breakfast (me) to round the corner so he could scare the bejesus out of him. I am thinking the tiger had a bet with his buddy – “Hey, watch this. Bet I can make them crap their pants.” Well I believe he would have won that bet. He slammed into the fence right in front of my nose, all of 7 feet tall, full body length. I could smell his rancid breath from a few inches away.
His work done, the tiger dashed off and remained hidden the rest of the time we were there. I lay on my back, knowing what it felt like to be eaten by a tiger, all except for the teeth crunching into the bone.