The tigers who came to tea

This article was created in partnership with Jamala Wildlife Lodge

At Jamala Wildlife Lodge in the heart of suburban Canberra, you’ll feel transported to the wilds of Africa and you may just leave with an animal stealing your heart.

It’s the moment I’ve been waiting for since arriving at Canberra’s Jamala Wildlife Lodge at the National Zoo & Aquarium. I turn the door of our room, Bungalow 4, and spot our companions for the night. Casually lazing on the other side of the glass to our living room and bathroom are two magnificent tigers: brothers named Ravi and Baru. They don’t seem the least bit fussed by our arrival, remaining on the cool concrete slab they are dozing on. It feels almost surreal but as they finally stand up to reposition themselves, I realise thi­­s is about as real, and as close, as it gets.

After surveying our room’s features including a four-poster bed, African artworks and a spacious bathroom with free-standing tub (yes, I bathe in front of Ravi and Baru), we settle in to observe our new friends and their habits. One of the brothers is lying so close, his fur is literally pressed up flat against the window. I am awed by this creature – the pattern of his coat, the size of his paws, his steely gaze, and a tongue wider than my hand slowly cleaning his body. One is languishing on the floor, his paw literally resting on his brother’s neck. His sibling withstands it for a while, but then drops his head in protest, causing his brother’s limb to flop to the ground instead. He barely stirs at the disturbance – it’s a hot summer’s day, after all. 

Jamala Wildlife Lodge

Jamala Wildlife Lodge opened in 2015 by Maureen and Richard Tindale as an extension of the National Zoo they opened in 1998. The zoo is fully self-funded. The sole purpose of introducing Jamala was to create more funding to build better enclosures, and continue to enhance the zoo and its conservation efforts.

All guests can enjoy afternoon tea and a briefing on arrival in the main uShaka Lodge – the original home in which Maureen, Richard and their six children lived while the zoo was being built. The lodge retains a homely feel, enhanced by an impressive array of genuine African artworks and artefacts.

During our stay, we take two tours to see the animals. The zoo is staffed by approximately 200 professionals whose love of the animals is heart-warming. We watch the adorable meerkats zip about in their new enclosure; we see white lions taking shade from the heat, we meet a cheetah with which guests can pay extra to have a 15-minute encounter; and we view the giraffe tree-house where guests on their balcony can feed lanky Hummer directly to his long, purple tongue.

“There are only three reasons for zoos to exist,” explains Russell, the business manager. “For preservation, conservation and education.” We hear about the partnerships Jamala has and the work they do with organisations such as the National Zoo & Aquarium Conservation Trust, Free the Bears, RSPCA and Traffic – the wildlife trade-monitoring network. Guests can make donations to any of these organisations to assist their significant work in protecting endangered species, but just by choosing to stay at Jamala, its visitors are also contributing.

During the night, I go to the bathroom aware that Ravi or Baru is just on the other side of the glass yet I feel strangely protected. I wake to the roar of the white lions from the depths of the zoo. I sip on my morning tea and watch as our tigers stroll up and down their garden, doing laps at sunrise, before coming to collapse again near the window.

Jamala Wildlife Lodge

Soon I’ll be checking out but I don’t want to leave. I realise that when we care about wildlife, we are going to make better tourism and lifestyle choices. We’re going to act and not turn a blind eye, and we’re going to support the charities and operators such as the National Zoo & Aquarium which is working towards conservation of our world’s most threatened species. There are many luxury places to stay in Australia but at Jamala, the luxury and point of difference is the safe proximity guests have to beautiful creatures for prolonged periods of time.

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