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Fliers drop in on tigers’ tea time to highlight beasts’ plight

5 August 2022
Tigers seen in zoo.

Not normally news. But these tigers can walk, talk, even fly…

Fliers from Culdrose took advantage of an operational ‘paws’ to visit their namesakes at Paignton Zoo, promoting World Tiger Day.

The men and women of 814 Naval Air Squadron – aka The Flying Tigers – are proud of their nickname, from striped fuselages and tiger faces on some of their Merlin Mk2 helicopters (and older personnel/veterans may remember the distinctive tiger livery of the squadron’s earlier Sea Kings) to regularly attending the ‘Tiger meet’, a gathering of military fliers from the world over whose squadrons have tiger titles.

They’re also aware of their responsibility to the environment and have established ties with Paignton zoo in Devon, home to two Sumatran tigers, Carrie and Padme… a rare breed (there are estimated to be fewer than 400 in the wild worldwide).

World Tiger Day is an annual event which aims to raise awareness of the plight of tigers in their natural habitat, as well as encouraging charities and governments around the world to increase funding to conservation programmes and environmental projects.

“Coming to Paignton Zoo is an amazing opportunity to see these incredible creatures up close, and to see first-hand some of the conservation work that is being undertaken to help safeguard the future of the tigers that we take so much of our squadron identity from,” said Lieutenant Dom Raeyen, one of 814’s pilots.

“Coming to Paignton Zoo is an amazing opportunity to see these incredible creatures up close, and to see first-hand some of the conservation work that is being undertaken to help safeguard the future of the tigers that we take so much of our squadron identity from.

Lieutenant Dom Raeyen

Due to the unit’s links with the zoo, the aviators were invited to observe meal time (sort of ‘the Tigers who came to the Tigers for tea…’) which takes place outside regular opening hours.

As part of the feed, keepers stuffed raw meat into a wooden deer covered in fur to prompt the tiger’s natural instinct to hunt. Activities such as this are known as enrichment which aims to provide stimulation for captive animals and encourage their natural behaviour.

“We are a conservation charity and we act to help halt species decline, so we welcome any opportunities to raise awareness of our animals and help us in our mission,” said Steve Nash, the zoo’s head of Campaigns and Programmes.

“Tigers are beautiful creatures and unless we take action their future is under threat.”

As for their flying namesakes, they operate submarine-hunting Merlin helicopters from Culdrose, from a forward operating base at HMS Gannet in Ayrshire and the decks of Type 23 frigates and Tide-class RFA tankers keeping an eye on hostile submarines.

They currently claim the sharpest claws in the Fleet Air Arm, holding the Breitling Trophy for the best overall performance during a Naval Flying Standards assessment.

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