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Tea Leaves

Saving Sumatra's tigers while in Sydney

Taronga Zoo uses technology to help endangered cats far away

A Sumatran tiger explores the front of a make-believe park ranger's vehicle poking into its enclosure, as Sydney schoolboy Lawson Boyle watches from inside. (Taronga Zoo/Rick Stevens)   © Taronga Zoo/Rick Stevens

Walking along what appears to be a typical Indonesian village street, I pass a little warung, a shop selling soap and light bulbs, and come to an arch marked "Taman Nasional Way Kambas" (Way Kambas National Park). Inside, well-muscled Sumatran tigers are pacing their domain. This little piece of the Indonesian island of Sumatra is the Tiger Trek attraction at Sydney's Taronga Zoo, a $14 million combination of high-technology simulation and theme park that opened on Aug. 20.

Visitors enter the Tiger Trek through a cylindrical chamber fitted out as an aircraft cabin. The "windows" are video monitors showing a "take-off" from Sydney airport, an abbreviated transit through tropical clouds, and a swoop over Sumatran jungles before "landing." On their ensuing walk along a twisting path through rocky outcrops and thick jungle, visitors are separated only by plate glass or wire mesh from Tiger Trek's stars: Clarence, Jumilah, and Jumilah's adult cubs Kembali and Kartika.

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