Howard the Vet meets Itza the Tiger
Instead of standing up with Anna, Howard remained kneeling in the dirt. I watched as he pivoted slowly towards the full-grown tiger and searched for words in his limited Spanish.
“Hey, Itza…. Itza, Grande. Magnifico.”… “Bueno, Itza. Bueno.” His voice was soft, melodious. Respectful. “Hermoso, Itza. Grande y hermoso.”
Howard instinctively dipped his head down in the hint of a bow. He cooed. He watched the huge tiger and the huge tiger watched him.
When the vet called to him, Itza was laying down with paws outstretched. He was fully focused and alert. Man and tiger both stayed nearly flat to the ground. Howard watched. Nodded. Bowed and rose carefully to one knee. Itza lifted his head up. His chest rose. Howard inched upward again. Itza’s ears twitched and his head rose slightly higher.
They began a sort of dance. Without really thinking about it, Howard mirrored the tiger and the tiger mirrored him. Gradually, ever so slowly, the man began to straighten all the way up and move forward ever so smoothly as the great cat shifted from laying on the ground to sitting all the way up. They rose a notch at a time, keeping a discreet eye-contact, Howard continuing to speak – almost purring, chanting – while looking from a slight angle with Itza looking straight on.
Finally, Howard rose to his full 6 feet+ height – and those of us witnessing this held our breath. Itza was up on his feet by now. He stood there on all fours – not budging, not flinching, not backing down – for this meeting with the man. And there they remained, sizing each other up carefully.
Itza had faced many a beating in his days in the circus. He had been victim to and watched many a brutal deed done by the males of our human species. He had good reason to be wary of men and Howard clearly understood that. He slowly reached out to the edge of the bars and offered the back of his hand. Itza looked and waited and finally, sniffed and then, Itza chuffed it – with a deeper than a horse-like sound and shake of his muzzle.
It was a breath-taking moment – the two of them standing there, finally, in front of one another. There was a hushed wonder and bit of a nervous laugh in Howard’s voice as he continued to talk to the tiger. Itza had granted him the audience and actually agreed to be friends!
Just as Howard half-turned away in delight, Itza suddenly rose up to his full height on his hind legs to tower above Howard. In the same instant this stunning wild animal suddenly let out a sound that wasn’t aggressive but stated unequivocally that HE, ITZA, was boss. I laughed out loud. I couldn’t help myself.
There was no doubt! The tiger had won. He dwarfed Howard’s six-foot-tall frame. The power and might of this magnificent animal were simply indisputable. Howard jumped back, frightened out of his skin, and began to laugh, too. “Okay! Okay! Now we know who’s boss!” Itza immediately came back down on all fours and stood quietly, now that everyone understood. Then, he even let Howard feed him a snack. He generously offered more chuffs. They were friends – at least for the moment.