Cambodia - 1954

BIJOU

Bijou’s story goes back to 1957, when I was photographing the Angkor temples. I wanted to interview the famous Cambodian pirate Dap Chuon, who was resting in a village in the north, near the Thai border. When he was in a good mood he didn’t mind a bit of publicity. It was a day’s ride through the jungle to his village. But when I arrived I was disappointed to find Dap Chuon was away hunting. I was about to leave when I spotted four tiny tiger cubs scrapping in a cardboard carton by a hut. The pirate had killed their mother on a hunt the day before. The village chief told me, “We are going to drown them tonight. You can take them if you like – that will get rid of them for us.” I was caught on the hop, so I took just one, the feistiest and so strongest of the litter. I took it back to the Grand Hotel in Siem Reap in a bag. The horse was skittish and it was a jumpy ride.

I had no idea how to raise a baby tiger, but I got through the first few days with lots of bottles and a few scratches. I then discovered that nobody in Cambodia wanted to adopt my little refugee. Tigers of any age are regarded as dangerous predators, to be killed without pity. So, for the time being, I had to keep my protégé, who incidentally turned out to be a female. I don’t remember who gave her the name of Bijou, but it has stuck.

Tigers are supposed to like water, but Bijou was not keen on taking a shower.

I took Bijou into the jungle, but she was terrified by the sounds and smells and rushed back to me.

My old friend Roger Colne, a famous architect, took her for a walk in Phnom-Penh.

But she would rather ride in a pedicab to see the city in style.

Breakfast for a young tiger is not croissants but a few kilos of choice buffalo steak.

In the end, I had to bring Bijou back to Paris, but that is another story, too complicated to tell you here.