After finishing his second year of high school, he journeyed to Manila to seek the proverbial greener pastures. The animal world beckoned to him naturally, and he landed a job as part of the maintenance staff of Valdez Farms in Quezon City, which also has a private mini zoo.
His innate love for animals leads him to devour the books on bird training at the company’s library. After months of trial and err or, the self-taught bird trainer mastered the art using positive reinforcement. It serves him in good stead not only for companionship but also for entertainment. “I give the birds (cockatoos and macaws) sunflower seeds as their rewards [when I teach] them tricks like playing basketball, riding a mini scooter, solving puzzles, etc. I have appeared in various animal shows at different malls. I was also featured in some TV programs,” he proudly says.
It is said that patience is always the key to good animal training, and Unyot has loads of it. He has soaked up everything about animal behavior al techniques and has established his authority not only over his feather ed friends but also his four -legged buddies. And here comes the tender tale of Pia the tiger. “I named her Pia, after Miss Universe Pia Wurtzbach,” Unyot says with a smile.
Pia is one year and five months old (as of this writing), a product of the union between a Siberian tiger and a Bengal tiger. Pia has been Unyot’s baby since her birth. “I bottle feed her, and she sleeps at my quarters her e at Manila Zoo,” he says with understandable pride. “She tags along when I do my early morning jog around the zoo. She practically grew with me as her surrogate mother,” he adds as he shows video clips on his mobile phone of Pia frolicking with him. The powerful bond of trust and cooperation between Pia and Unyot is quite evident. “Pia consumes 3 kilos of chicken meat and 2 kilos of carabeef; chicken for calcium and carabeef for protein. I also give her vitamin B complex. Feeding time is 10 AM,” he explains.
Tigers are the largest cat species, most recognizable for their pattern of dark stripes on reddish-orange fur with a lighter belly underneath. Interestingly, tigers are born blind and helpless. And the tiger’s stripes are also found on the skin, so that if it were shaved, its distinctive coat pattern would still be visible.
When asked about criticisms about the poor plight of animals in captivity or in the zoo, Unyot turns serious and says in Filipino that on the contrary, he thinks the zoo provides a better and safer place for the animals. The animals are no longer safe outside it, especially when one considers the poachers, the illegal loggers, the mining operations which destroy the animal’s natural habitat. He asks, would you believe, egrets, herons, owls, and other birds migrate here and make the zoo their sanctuary? “We even caught snakes and squirrels entering the zoo,” he says. Truly, this tiger tamer is a natural animal person.
This story appeared in Animal Scene’s January 2017 issue.