The following comes directly from the brochure Marc Chandler hands out when people inquire about a private session with Tessa.

About Tessa and Marc Chandler, her trainer? Tessa's owner and trainer, Marc Chandler, was running an endangered species breeding program for the Federation of Zoo's in England. Tessa was one of the twenty eight Siberian tigers that were born at the wildlife park during this program.

Tessa is a seventh generation captive bred tiger and was one of a litter of three. Sadly Tessa was the runt of the litter, making her the smallest and the weakest and at just two days old was rejected by her mother. This is when Marc Chandler took her into his home and raised her by hand.

He started to train Tessa from a young age using just love and rewards. Marc does not believe in using sticks or whips as many people who train these animals do.

At just 12 weeks old she starred in her first television commercial for Esso (Exxon) the petrol giant. The commercial was named "The Heart of the Engine" and for this Tessa won a BAFTA award for the best performing animal. She continued her work for Esso/Exxon and for those of you who come from Europe or have been to Europe you may have seen the Tigers eyes on every gas station. They are the eyes of Tessa the Tiger. Tessa has starred in other commercials, some of the more well known ones are British Telecom, Guinness Beer, and she launched Andrew Lloyd Webbers production of "Cats."

She carried on her movie career, and Tessa and Marc starred in many Hollywood productions. Because Tessa is so tame Marc is able to simulate attack scenes with her.

She has made many appearances over the years and also helped a lot of fundraising events. She also headed an educational program in England where she toured schools teaching younger children about endangered species, and how close to extinction the tiger really is.

Tessa came to Aruba in September 2000. She traveled by British Airways, but unfortunately whilst staying overnight in Miami airport she was upset by forklift trucks and broke a tooth. Other than this Tessa has ALL her teeth, and ALL her claws, and is never sedated. Tessa's tooth was repaired by a dentist on the island, Dennis Hagen, in conjunction with the local vets at Wayaca. They performed a root canal operation and Tessa was back to herself in less than a week.

Now all Tessa does is touch a tiger session. She does this for a total of approximately 40 minutes a day, in four 10 minute sessions. This is your chance to meet her and actually get up close and touch a full grown, 520 lb. tiger.

What is a Private Session? Private sessions are just that! You will get your own personal time with Tessa and her trainer on your own. During this time Tessa will not be on a chain, but free to do as she wishes and you may interact with her as she pleases. Marc Chandler (Tessa's owner and trainer) will be on hand at all times to supervise and will guide you on what do to and more importantly what not to do, when in close contact with a big cat. During your time you may also bring your own cameras and camcorders and take as many pictures as you desire, but we do stipulate that these pictures must be for personal use only.

How long will I get with Tessa? You will get to spend between 30 minutes and one hour with Tessa. We do not make Tessa do anything that she doesn't want to. That means when Tessa is finished and wants to sleep, she will let us know and that will be the end of the session.

How may people can attend? We are permitted to allow a maximum of two people only to attend each private session.

How much does it cost? See below.

I read the brochure with much excitement. It offered an opportunity to spend time, up to one hour, in close contact with a Siberian tiger who, according to the brochure "has all her teeth and claws!" In the above write-up I intentionally did not state the cost because I believe it to be dirt-cheap for the experience. I know I would have paid more for the experience. Given that I made arrangements for Anne and I to return the next morning at 8:00 a.m. for a private session with Tessa.

When I told Anne she immediately responded: "I'm not going in that cage with a tiger that isn't on a leash!" I knew she'd go in the cage with me and that she was just pulling my chain, but Helen, not knowing Anne, replied: "It's the experience of a lifetime and you'll regret it if you don't."

For the remainder of the evening there was just no living with me. I was excited and anxious to say the least knowing I would get to spend time petting Tessa the next morning. I could hardly contain myself. I'll admit thoughts did pass through my mind that something might happen, either intentionally or accidentally, and I might get hurt, but I put my faith in the trainer and Tessa. I figured he wouldn't do it if the percentages weren't highly in favor of it being a great and safe experience. But, in the back of your mind, you know you'll be getting into an enclosed cage with a 520-pound tiger. That night I didn't have any bad dreams or anything, but I did wake up about five times. Each time I managed to go back to sleep thinking only good things about the experience I would soon enjoy. Now, enjoy the pictures as I tell you what it's like to be in the cage with Tessa.

Anne with Tessa

Eight o'clock in the morning doesn't come all that early when you're excited about something, like climbing in the cage with a Siberian tiger, but the appointed hour finally arrived and Anne and I were ready. As ready as we would ever be. Marc and Helen were already there and in the cage with Tessa. Within a minute or two they emerged and, before we knew it, Anne and I were headed into Tessa's enclosure.

Well, what they advertised is exactly what you get. The two of us, the two of them and Tessa roaming free to do as she pleases. As soon as we entered Marc gave us a few additional pointers that were different from what we received when the had the photos taken the day before. He advised us that she likes to walk around and will eventually approach you. As she does she will bump her head into your body, you know, the way a loving house cat does. He then told us that, occasionally, as she walks by, she might give you a little nip in the butt, but that it would be a loving nip just like house cats do.

And, lastly, when she rises to walk away, you also rise. I assume this is to prevent the cat from appearing to be in a dominant position over you.

Anne and I came ready for this private session. We brought the digital camcorder and my digital camera. I would have brought my old faithful Nikon, but it's to difficult for someone not experienced with it to use. Anne decided she'd take the videos and I gave the still camera to Marc's assistant. I was then free to interact with Tessa in whatever way she chose. It wasn't long before I was rubbing her and just thoroughly enjoying this experience. Take a look at these pictures!

Me rubbing Tessa

Anne taking pictures of Tessa and me

Tessa and her trainer,
Marc Chandler
I have to admit. The night before I was thinking the trainer might do whatever to make the session as short as possible. In a way it wouldn't have mattered as the price I was paying was well worth it for just a few minutes with Tessa. But, I must tell you, I was pleasantly surprised by the attitude, friendliness and cooperation that Marc and his assistant showed Anne and I. Never once did they rush us. Never once did they attempt to end the session. The session ended after about 50 minutes because Anne was ready to leave. She stated several times that I'd wear Tessa out for the rest of the people that wanted to see her that day. In addition to making sure we got our time with Tessa, Marc's assistant eagerly volunteered to take both still photographs and videos of Anne and I together. They couldn't have been more gracious and cooperative, as was Tessa the entire time we were with her.

If you think these pictures are great and "up close and personal" with Tessa ... continue to the next page!

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