(Published in The West Australian, 30 December, 2010)

Meal time at the piranha tank in the Bali Safari and Marine Park was a confronting experience.

Prince of the predators

It was not something you could expect in the picturesque Gianyar region, just a short way from Indonesia’s famous tourist centres of Kuta and Sanur.

Everything looked perfectly normal before the food arrived.  The fish were swimming casually about in one big school, looking like cute cousins of Nemo.

Then up strode one of the attendants. He put a dead, skinless chicken on a wire hook and lowered it into the water.

The whole atmosphere suddenly changed. The little devils headed straight for their lunch, their razor-sharp teeth working overtime.

The chicken must have been fin-licking good because the mob got so excited they swarmed all over it, biting from all angles known to geometry.

After a couple of minutes, the piranhas had stripped the chicken to the bone, leaving it looking  like a skeleton of a monkey. Scary.

Somebody said what we were all thinking: “What if you put your hand in?”

“Let’s go,” I suggested, as much to myself as our group, and we wandered away, thrilled and appalled in equal measure.

It was time for a break from the predator side of life.

One of our group held a baby orang-utan and they both posed for a photo. Next was an animal show featuring elephants. Then there was a show  starring dogs, pussy cats (yes, they can be herded), free-flying birds and orang-utans.

Tigers

We then left the cuddly world and returned to the domain of the carnivore. It felt safe enough as we lined up for a photo patting a tranquil tiger cub but we wouldn’t have wanted to try stroking the big white tiger visible through a plate glass window. The muscled beast prowling along a river bank could be described as big and beautiful but not as cuddly and cute.

On the Safari bus trip through a mini wildlife park we were excited to come across a semi-submerged animal of the species that experts say has killed more people than any other except the mosquito. It was Harry the Hippo. No way were we going to hop out to high five him.

After passing animals like zebras and antelopes, our bus went round a corner and shuddered to a halt. A giant, grey rhino was blocking our way. In a contest between the armour-plated animal and our vehicle, I would have put my rupiah on the rhino.

Rhino has right of way

Fortunately, it didn’t come to that. He eventually moved on and so did we, eventually arriving alongside oxen named after a dance, or was it the other way around. The Watusi have horns wider than — and as wicked as — the vuvuzelas at the World Cup.

As the end of our safari, we were safely inside the Tsavo restaurant, staring through its big windows at a pride of lions only a few metres away.

The restaurant’s  publicity pamphlet happily advised us that its name “relives the legendary pair of Tsavo Lions that become famous by killing and eating more than one hundred railway workers on the Kenya – Uganda Railway in 1898”.

If you can’t beat them, join them. I became a predator too. With only a passing thought for the poor old water buffalos of the world, I ordered oxtail soup.

END

www.balisafarimarinepark.com

Michael Day was a guest of the park.