May 27, 2009

Today in a northern New Zealand wildlife park named Zion Wildlife Gardens, a zookeeper was mauled to death by a white tiger. The tiger was then put down. The entire story can be read here on the NZ Herald website.

There are a lot of things that spring to my mind when I read an article like this. I've tried to arrange them into some sort of coherent point-by-point argument in order to properly express my feelings which, I must be honest, lean heavily towards the 'outraged' end of the spectrum.

"The death of Mr Mncube is the third animal attack in recent times at the park, which is home to more than 40 lions and tigers."

The "third animal attack in recent times at the park" may suggest park mismanagement and zookeeper incompetence more than anything else. Could it be that this park's staff aren't well trained enough to be equal to the task of handling wild animals? It takes a special kind of person to handle a tiger without losing a limb.

"The white tiger, one of only 120 in the world, has been put down."

The tiger, a wild animal imprisoned in a park and subject to forced human interaction, attacked and killed a keeper and was then 'put down'. The tiger attacked because it is a predator, because it is bred to roam vast stretches of land for the purpose of hunting, because it is a wild animal that can not be domesticated no matter how hard Siegfried and Roy and zoos try, and because it is the natural instinct of a wild animal to behave in an untamed and potentially lethal way when cornered and/or forced into unnatural behaviors. It's a tiger. It's not a kitten. Why should it be put down for doing what comes naturally? There are only near to 3000 tigers all told left in the wild, and that's a generous estimate, and the very reason they're on the brink of extinction is because of human encroachment. We creep into their land, we pave over their territory, we hunt them for sport, we hunt them for medicinal value, we put them in zoos and wildlife parks, we relentlessly drive them into a virtual corner. It's our fault tigers, like any other dying breed, are on the edge of oblivion and it's our fault they attack us while they're imprisoned in our Vegas shows/wildlife fun parks/zoos.

"A MAF report released in November indicated that inspectors were so concerned about conditions at Zion that they considered having 40 big cats put down."

Because clearly the answer to a mismanaged wildlife park where the wildlife are behaving, oh, wildly, is to kill all the big cats and start the park from scratch. Not shut down the park and re-integrate the cats into the wild. Not shut down the park and transfer the cats to better managed zoos. Not shut down the park and call in new trained staffers to care for the cats. Kill the cats. That's roughly the equivalent of saying that because a pet store isn't really making the sort of money the accountants would like, all the puppies will be summarily shot. Why is killing off 40 lions and tigers even a viable point of discussion?

"At a press conference this afternoon, Northland police Inspector Paul Dimery said the attack was being treated as a criminal investigation, but there was nothing to suggest the death was suspicious."

I'm assuming they mean the death of the keeper because there's plenty suspicious about the death of the tiger. The man didn't deserve to die. I'm not saying he asked for it. But I am saying that lions and tigers are wild and predatory animals and putting them in a park and naming them does not automatically de-fang them and make them pets. They will behave in the manner that instinct has always instructed them to behave. They will behave like lions and like tigers. There is a high element of risk involved. The death of the keeper was a tragedy, yes, but the criminal act was putting down the tiger whose only fault was behaving like a wild animal. Human intervention is destroying the animal kingdom and when we are left with a cold dead planet where only virtual creatures prowl specially-designed 3D rooms it will be absolutely our own fault. We try to pat lions on the nose and then shoot them between the eyes when they pounce. And that is criminal. And our own latent inability to preserve anything on this planet beyond ourselves is more than suspicious.