Tatiana Is Telling us Something

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Tatiana
The killing of one visitor and maiming of two others by Tatiana, a Tiger, in the S.F. Zoo raises questions that go far beyond one cat and three victims. One might ask: Should there even be zoos?


We do not yet know what happened in the San Francisco Zoo yesterday, but some details are starting to emerge. It looks like Tatiana leaped out of her enclosure. If that proves to be true, we should not be too surprised. Cats have amazing, and I believe under investigated muscular ability. The 1.2 foot long cats we are cat sitting for routinely leap 600% of their length to achieve such lofty heights as the top of the refrigerator. I have seen a leopard, carrying in her own mouth an impala weighing more than herself, leap straight up 300% of her own body length, into a tree. I have about 0% confidence in zoo-ologists (not zoologists, but rather, zoo experts) to have the remotest idea of the behavioral and physical limitations and potentials of most of the animals they keep.

So the first question that emerges is whether or not animals are properly enclosed with respect to the safety of visitors. Likely, most animal are well secured in most zoos. But that is little consolation if you are the person standing in the path of the tiger.

Again, we do not yet know the details, but there are reports that one of the victims may have taunted the tiger. Since we do not know that this is true, let us speak in generalities. The truth is that it is fairly routine for zoo visitors to behave poorly. The last time I saw a tiger in a zoo was in the Minnesota Zoo. As I stood quietly gazing at the amazing beasts, a group of ten-to-twenty year olds happened by, looked at the tiger for a few seconds, then the three of them who were holding an orange drink of some sort emptied their drinks over the edge of the enclosure, with the tops and straws falling in as well, yelling something (that i did not understand) to the animals who, at the moment, were fast asleep and ignoring the visitors.

There was at one time (it may still be there) in the Franklin Park zoo, at the gorilla enclosure, a spot where you could see the apes from the path, but were not allowed to walk close, not allowed to walk on this small grassy strip. If you did walk on this spot, a recorded voice would intone: “You are not allowed into this area. An alarm has been sounded. Authorities have been alerted. Stay were you are until authorities have arrived!” or words to that effect. The sign telling people to not go on the grass had a note warning that an alarm would go off if you stepped there.

Naturally, every teenager who entered that zoo had to go and set off the alarm at least once during their visit. And a few adults. What a way to impress your date.

So, the second question is, should there not be a code of conduct for zoo visitors that is enforced? I can think of many reasons why there should not be such a code, all of which have to do with the zoo’s finances, and none with the safety and well being of the animals.

It is the case that every now and then a visitor to a zoo is killed and sometimes consumed by large zoo-bound carnivores somewhere in the world. Usually this is because the visitor has entered the cage, climbed over the wall, swam across the moat, whatever. The same is true of visitors to wild places. Very few tourists are killed by leopards or lions but most of those that are have stepped out of the car to get a better picture of the lion they see in the grass (perhaps not noticing the lion they don’t see in the grass), or decide to go jogging in the bush (for one last time), that sort of thing.

In other words, there really is a fine line between Tatiana leaping from her cage and killing a visitor who is not taunting her and a visitor taunting an animal in the worst way possible … by entering the cage in a drunken and rowdy state .. being killed and eaten. By OSHA standards, or in a court of law in most countries, there is of course not such a fine line. But from the tiger’s perspective, there may be no line at all.

Then there is the question of what makes an animal dangerous. Now, in the case of Tatiana, she was killed by police because she was loose, had attacked a number of people, and there were still people running around in the zoo. The only better solution would have been to dart her, but the police probably did not have darts. But there are many instances per year of a large carnivore maiming or killing someone who is not actually a visitor at a zoo, but rather, a person on a game farm, possibly a worker or possibly a friend or relative of a worker. I (vaguely) knew a guy in South Africa who was eaten by one of his lions not too long ago. A young girl was attacked by a tiger in the upper Midwest last year. A “tame” bear damaged someone recently here as well.

In many of these situations, a government agency … the one in charge of issuing permits to posses a wild animal … makes a determination that the animal is dangerous and issues orders to have the animal killed.

It is very reasonable to postulate that among the tigers in captivity, some are more likely to kill a person than others. The same can probably be said of bears and lions. But that is not at all what is being assumed by these determinations. Officially, an animal goes from one that need not be killed on sight to one that must be killed, even if it is well caged. In other words, the animal are treated the same way that people are treated. Innocent (no death sentence) until proven guilty, but if proven guilty, executed as a killer. There is no gray area, no fine line, in this reasoning.

But certainly, it is all, from the animal’s perspective, gray. It should always be assumed that large carnivores are deadly…. that’s why we call them l a r g e … c a r n i v o r e s…. See? Carn – i – vores = meat eater. Large meat eater. Large meat eating beast. Look out!

Why do people not get this?

People do not get this because of the efforts of many of the same people who support zoos, as well as in the broader world of wildlife conservation. For instance, in an effort to encourage feelings and actions and legislation favoring or mandating wolf conservation, it became common for pro-wolfies to intone “There has never been a documented case of a wolf killing a person…” or words to that effect. The only way that this can be true is if you define “documented” so narrowly as to exclude almost everything else we know of history. As my old friend Gil used to say back in high school: “Hey, teacher, how do you know there was a World War two?????” Wolves have eaten people.

The problem with this strategy is that the emotional or sympathetic basis for conservation rapidly unravels the moment the animal of interest (such as wolves) eat some hapless child or takes down a jogger at unawares. Well, the first time that happens, the authorities can simply declare that particular wolf to be a felon of the worst kind, run it down, and execute it. But once it starts to become routine, that will no longer work. A better strategy might be to incorporate the fact that wolves (or tigers or whatever) are large carnivores into their management, understanding, and appreciation.

Getting back to zoos. Should zoos even exist? One of the reasons they should exist, it is said, is because they inspire so many to appreciate wild animals, so they will grow up supporting conservation, maybe even getting involved in conservation itself.

There are several reasons that I do not believe this. For each person that I know who is an active conservationist inspired as a child by zoos, I know ten or twenty active conservationists who never visited a zoo as a child. (Based on a very unofficial survey, but I’ll buy it until proven otherwise.) I see people at zoos, and a few are appreciating the animals, and notably, these are often the people who express mixed feelings about the animals being caged. Most zoo-goers might as well be at the amusement park riding roller coasters.

Also, if you ever look behind the scenes in a zoo you may not like what you see. Depending on the species, there are often anywhere from a few to many individuals who can’t be shown to the public because they are so badly damaged … sometimes (in the case of primates, especially) due to self abuse arising from being deeply disturbed mentally … that they can’t be shown without alarming visitors.

I am not necessarily opposed to the existence of zoos. But I might be. I go back and forth. I would like to see some organization of rational people sponsor an independent look at zoos and all they do, have done, are doing, and should do.

Comments

  1. #1 Barn Owl
    December 27, 2007

    A recent article on the San Francisco Chronicle website indicates that the tiger enclosure wall is 4 feet short of the height recommended by big cat experts. Also, Tatiana had a significant amount of concrete in her back paws, consistent with the idea that she climbed out of the enclosure. This was not 350 pounds of Cheetos-and-Mountain-Dew-fed internet-surfing couch potato, but rather 350 pounds of muscle, bone, teeth, and claws, with incredible agility and strength. I find it difficult to believe that a 350-lb tiger used a puny human, clinging to or perched on a fence, to launch herself from the enclosure. My Labrador retriever weighs half as much as I do, but she can easily knock me over when playing, and I have no doubt she could kill me easily, if she wanted (and not just with her breath, or by licking me to death). But who would open the dog food cans then??

    I agree that some people behave very badly at zoos, but I’m unwilling to assign thoughts and intentions to the majority of zoo visitors, just because they don’t seem engaged or interested by criteria or signs that I understand. Some people set a bad example for their kids at zoos and wildlife parks, and a few even put their children at risk by lifting them over enclosures, or encouraging taunting behavior. But then we have the example of “wildlife biologist” Steve Irwin (whose popularity I’ve never understood), who held his infant son in one arm while feeding chickens to a saltwater crocodile with the other. Tatina’s keeper probably thought she was safely out of reach during the mauling incident a year ago, too. The two incidents with Tatiana, and the(perceived) misery and boredom of large carnivores in captivity, make me think that some animals, at least, should never be kept in zoos.

  2. #2 Virgil Samms
    December 27, 2007

    You continue to ignore the War on Christmas angle. Tatiana has carried out attacks two Christmases in a row. Clearly this was an evil atheistic cat who is now rotting in Hell for eternity.

  3. #3 6EQUJ5
    December 27, 2007

    As a small child I was once was taken to a zoo, but I was so severely nearsighted I never saw any animals, I only smelled their droppings.

    As an adult, I would not go to a zoo because animals, like humans, do not belong in cages. This was not something I was taught. I’ve felt this way since I was very young. As a child, I was always the underdog, and I’ve always rooted for the underdog, so when caged animals turn on their tormentors, guess who I’m siding with.

  4. #4 Craig
    December 27, 2007

    What about the people that can’t afford to go on an extended world-wide tour and see all of the different animals. Guess they’ll have to be content with 2-D pictures, so that we can empty the zoos out.

  5. #5 stephenk
    December 27, 2007

    “Large meat eater. Large meat eating beast. Look out!
    Why do people not get this?”

    Because people don’t think of themselves as meat.

    I recall hearing on the radio a few years ago the recollections of a lady attcked by a crocodile in Australia. As the crocodile had her by the legs and was doing the death roll with her underwater, her only thoughts were “this shouldn’t be happening, I am not meat”.

    We urban humans are distanced from this aspect of reality, but I don’t think that is solely due to environment groups or whatever. It is much deeper in our human “specialness” whatever that is.

    StephenK

  6. #6 Greg Laden
    December 27, 2007

    I is often explicitly stated that this or that carnivore does not like the taste of human flesh. This is an urban myth.

  7. #7 Troy
    December 27, 2007

    You know I have no problems with the idea of a zoo, but 90% of the implementations are crap. For instance why aren’t the humans in enclosed paths through the exhibits? Their the ones you need to keep track of. And why is it that with all the “Enrichment” crap that zoo-keepers are always taking about they never feed them live food? Feed a tiger dead pigeons for half a decade and give her a chance at a nice, wriggly, fleshy, human and what the heck do you expect?

  8. #8 SLC
    December 27, 2007

    Apparently the problem at the San Francisco Zoo was not that the wall around the enclosure was too low but that the moat between the enclosure and the wall was too shallow, thus allowing the tiger to get a running start at the wall. According to the Washington Post, the moat in front of the wall in the National Zoo is 10 feet deep, thus not allowing an enclosed tiger to get a running start at the wall.

  9. #9 Christopher Taylor
    December 27, 2007

    I asked a similar question a few years ago when my parents were planning a trip to Thailand and considering going on an elephant ride. At first, I had objections to the idea – for a start, the vast majority of working elephants are (I believe) wild-caught as calves because of the practical barriers to elephant breeding in captivity (male elephants being too dangerous in the breeding season to be kept as workers). I don’t really know about the suitability of the living conditions working elephants are kept in, but I’d be inclined to be suspicious. But then the question occured to me that while it might be preferable in an ideal sense that there were no working elephants, would wild elephants have been permitted to survive in the area at all if the local people hadn’t felt the necessity of a wild population to supply workers?

    Troy: Captive carnivores are not usually fed live prey because it is regarded as inhumane to the prey animal. In particular, captive animals that have not been raised on live food are generally very poor killers, taking longer to effect the kill and increasing the suffering of the prey. I’ve often seen dogs or cats playing with small animals they come across, throwing it about the place and causing significant injuries, but not actually killing the prey. There is also the risk of injury to the predator while bringing down the prey to consider. Wild kills are generally not the clean and simple affairs they are imagined by most of the public to be (Darren Naish did a post on this last year), and things can only get messier within the confines of an enclosure where there’s not far to run.

  10. #10 Barn Owl
    December 27, 2007

    Although big cats seem to be involved in about half of the attacks on zookeepers and zoo visitors, Carnivora, “red in tooth and claw”, are not the only animals involved in such incidents. Great apes (in particular chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans), orcas, elephants, and cassowaries have been involved in attacks that resulted in major injuries or death for humans. I’ve seen people at zoos and fairs do incredibly stupid things around large birds like emus and ostriches. Attack by enraged cassowaries, ostriches, or secretary birds would resemble being hunted, slashed, and/or stomped by velociraptors or phorusrhacids.

    No captive wolf attacks mentioned though…my Wolgadeutsche grandparents used to tell me tales of wolves attacking sleds and sneaking into bedrooms in harsh Old Country winters, perhaps to quash my treehugging ecofreak nature. But I didn’t believe them when I was 8, nor do I believe those tales now, and I’m still a treehugging ecofreak.

  11. #11 Greg Laden
    December 27, 2007

    There are some pretty well documented cases of wolves taking people off of sleds in bad winters. When Peter was building St. Petersburg, two armed guards outside the unfinished palace were attacked, one eaten, by the same pack that a day or two later (or earlier, can’t remember) took a woman on a nearby island … in sight of the frightened townspeople … while she was gathering firewood. And so on.

    You are right, though, anything big and sharp and/or strong is dangerous. A few years ago a tapier took off a zoo worker’s arm. Ouch, that was probably not a clean wound…

  12. #12 Alan Kellogg
    December 27, 2007

    Let’s not forget hippos and pigs. Nasty bitches the lot of ‘em.

  13. #13 Tina Rhea
    December 28, 2007

    As far as I know, there are no documented cases of a wolf killing a person in North America; it has happened in Eurasia.

    Zoos run the gamut from horrible to outstanding. The best of them are breeding sanctuaries for species which would otherwise be extinct, or even more severely endangered than they are. I volunteered with a program in the National Zoo that was training golden lion tamarins (small monkeys) to live outside and forage for food so they could be taken to Brazil and released in what’s left of the coastal forest. There are more GLTs in zoos than in the wild, but only a few hundred in either situation.

    Some species and some individuals don’t do well in zoos, though research and management techniques can mitigate a lot of the problems, and certainly some zoos should be shut down. But to say that zoos as a whole are inhumane or should be abolished would do a grave disservice to many conservation efforts. And I think most people do need a connection to wild animals in order to feel motivated to protect them.

    As for protecting zoo visitors, the biggest problem is the macho young male who wants to show off or prove that he’s superior to a dangerous animal. Crippling injury or death to such people is a form of tightening up the human gene pool. The worst of it is that the animal always suffers the extreme penalty for acting according to its nature. If the young man who died was taunting Tatiana, I am sorry for his family, but not for him; he will have killed that magnificent rare creature.

  14. #14 Justin Moretti
    December 28, 2007

    So long as a tiger is presented to children as a stupidly happy Disney-raped cartoon creature that bounces on its spring-like tail, or some noble, persecuted, misunderstood, angsty endangered creature hiding from evil humans (the endangered bit of which is admittedly true), the adults those children become are going to lose sight of (if they have not done so already) two very important things:

    1) A tiger in the wild – you know, the kind they’re trying to protect – gets its food by hunting, killing and eating other living things.

    2) Unlike many human beings who hunt to fill their larders, and who are raised to believe in a merciful single-shot kill, the tiger does not give a fuck about the suffering it inflicts on its victim during the killing and eating process.

    Vegetarians who believe in the nobility and moral superiority of animals should trash their illusions now.

    Disney’s impression of Winnie the Pooh has a lot to answer for. Even in their own context, the life taken on by A.A. Milne’s characters was the imagination of a child playing with his toys, and children reading the books at the time of their publication would have known this.

    In reality, Christopher Robin wouldn’t last a minute; Tigger would swat Pooh Bear off so he could finish his human meal, and between them Rabbit and Piglet would be no more than a tasty snack. Owl might be safe if he didn’t take for granted his ex-friends’ abilities to climb trees, and Kanga (and possibly Roo) might manage to put enough distance between if she left while Christopher Robin was still screaming for his mother and fouling his pants in terror, but we shouldn’t fool ourselves that animals in the wild are anything like what we anthropomorphize them as for children.

    If anything, the closest animated ‘animal story’ to reality I’ve seen is Watership Down; in the course of which rabbits kill each other (perhaps not realistic – any lapine experts out there?), are gassed, shot, taken by flying predators, and ripped to pieces by a blood-frenzied farm dog.

  15. #15 Tristram Brelstaff
    December 28, 2007

    From an article by Helen MacDonald (alias Pluvialis):

    No-one would let a tiny toddler walk in front of a leopard, or a lion? Or would they? When I was in South Africa, many years ago, I visited a game farm where they bred King cheetahs. Which paced the fences, watching the crowds. You’d see families with small kids walking along, and a cheetah pacing elegantly along, just the other side of the chainlink, in step with the smallest and weakest child, eyes fixed, locked on them. “Look, Thomas!” I heard one woman say in delight. “The cheetah likes you best.”

    Read the rest here.

  16. #16 Sonja
    December 28, 2007

    Tigers are an excellent example of an animal that is not doing very well in the wild, but breeds very successfully in captivity.

    There is a nonprofit organization based in Minnesota (I worked there for 2 years) called the International Species Information System, which is a database of all the world’s zoo animals.

    By maintaining and sharing data on the animals pedigrees, health, clinical medicine, enrichment programs, etc., much can be learned in order to conserve animal species that are facing extinction. Several animal species have already been saved by zoos and re-introduced into the wild (e.g. Arabian Oryx, Przewalski’s Horse, and European Bison).

    Until humans start behaving better to animals outside of zoos, zoos will be a crucial component of animal conservation.

  17. #17 TSK
    December 28, 2007

    > But certainly, it is all, from the animal’s perspective, > gray. It should always be assumed that large carnivores
    > are deadly…. that’s why we call them l a r g e … c a
    > r n i v o r e s…. See? Carn – i – vores = meat eater.
    > Large meat eater. Large meat eating beast. Look out!

    Ouch !
    According to the park and book guides in Southern Africa
    the most dangerous animals in Africa are not carnivores, but *herbi*vores: Hippo, Buffalo and Elephant. The first ones are both known to be extremely aggressive even if unprovoked. The main reasons for an attack are surprise, violation of territority and disturbed emotions; attacking for prey is uncommon.
    It is a dangerous misconception because people may think that they may be safe because the animal does not eat them.

    > The only way that this can be true is if you define
    > “documented” so narrowly as to exclude almost everything
    > else we know of history. As my old friend Gil used to say
    > back in high school: “Hey, teacher, how do you know there
    > was a World War two?????” Wolves have eaten people.

    While I readily accept that wolves may be able to kill someone on a sled and attack guards, I would like have a source before I state this. Where are these incidents documented ?
    Remember: According to history the Persians attacked Greece with several million men which is logistically extremely implausible.

  18. #18 Sven DiMilo
    December 28, 2007

    Recommended:
    On zoos and their continued existence:
    http://www.thesunmagazine.org/_media/article/pdf/383_Jensen.pdf

    On zoos, behind the scenes (funny and reasonable):
    http://www.amazon.com/You-Belong-Zoo-Lifetime-Creatures/dp/1400060125

    On human-killing carnivores:
    http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1844133230

  19. #19 dave
    December 28, 2007

    “It is a dangerous misconception because people may think that they may be safe because the animal does not eat them.”
    I was once talking to somebody who had spent a few years in Africa, and he made a point of mentioning some of the precautions to be taken to Make Sure The Hippo Does Not Get Mad At You. Apparently you DO NOT want to get between a hippo and water, or between a hippo and its children.
    A few years later I came across a quote that sums up the significance of a large dangerous animal being herbivorous quite nicely: “The hippo is a strict vegetarian. After he bites you in half, he’ll be sure to spit out BOTH halves.”

  20. #20 Greg Laden
    December 28, 2007

    I spent a LOT of time dodging hippos from both land and in the water (sometimes, but not always, in a boat). It is a myth that getting between a hippo and it’s young is dangerous. This is a rule of thumb good to apply to all animals, but it strangely does not work with hippos. The hippo mother and offspring are always physically close, so you can actually approach nearer to a female with her young because, by attacking you, she would be putting too much distance between her and her young.

    What you don’t want to do with a hippo is to shine a light in its eyes at night. Especially headlamps of a car or truck!

    They run very fast, but they are very poor tree climbers…

  21. #21 Greg Laden
    December 28, 2007

    TSK: Ouch? Yes indeed, the truth can hurt.:)

    The “hippos/etc” kill more people than lions is a myth. That there has been no documented case of a (non rabid) wolf attacking a person is a myth. In a comment that is a reply to a comment on a post I’m not going to document this for you … but I am not speaking out of any orifice than a reasonably well educated mouth in this matter. But I can give you an overview.

    I have personally lived and worked in areas where humans, hippos, lions, and other animals hang out together. My memory alone provides this count of people I know or projects I’ve worked on where someone was killed: Elephant: 1 death, one serious injury. Buffalo: One serious injury (that I personally treated) Hippo: One death (my cooks father). Leopard: One death (a colleague’s colleague), one serious injury (a hunter I know) Croc: One arm bitten off (a colleague’s colleague). Lion: Six people in the same place where the hippo killed one person, but not while I was there; four people elsewhere including one person I know on a game farm. The rest all wild lions. I’m not counting people stuck in cages or in enclosures, just lions running around loose. Hyenas: attack on children, no deaths.

    So if I’m a waking transect collecting data, the lions are winning.

    Adrian Travers did a study published in the East African Journal of Wildlife that compiled all the mortality data for several decades in Uganda. Lions by far out pace hippos there as a mammalian cause of death. Lions out pace everything in Uganda.

    Owing to the population concentration in South Africa, a large portion of the death-by-mammal happens there. There are not too many hippos there. Elephants are believed to have been responsible for the death of a lot off people from Moz coming across the Kruger, but those are not at all well documented. If we are going to be careful bout using every old story of a wolf killing a Russian, why would we increment death-by-elephant numbers from undocumented and uncounted cases such as these?

    For wolves: In reading on the history of the building of St. Petersburg as well as early colonial history in New England, you will find descriptions of many events and endeavors, without any clearly mythical information. The puritans did not encounter cyclops or mermaids, for instance. The Russians did not have to purchase the swamps to build St. Petersburg from elves or gnomes. And among the accounts of these multi-year long events, every now and then the wolves eat a person.

    In more recent times there are cases of wolf attack. Audubon himself wrote of this for the nineteenth century. Much more recently a small pack of wolves treed a forestry worker in Canada until co-workers came to the rescue and killed the wolf, for instance. In a recent report that I can’t lay my hands on right now there were nearly 40 attacks since 1970-something in Alaska by wolves on people, ranging from mere aggressive encounters to full scale attacks most not rabid cases.

    To show you how absurd the “It never happens” philosophy is, David Mech himself once declared that a young girl attacked and bitten by a wolf was not actually “attacked” because the injury was not severe. How the hell does that work? Had the bite been a few inches in a different direction so the girl died, would the same exact event then have counted? And this is coming form a scientist…

    I should have made my post more clear. The large carnivores are dangerous. In the long run, I think pretending they are not will do them more harm than good.

  22. #22 Cats are Snakes
    December 28, 2007

    I would like to respond to the comment of Troy about zoo feeding. I was familiar with the Albuquerque Zoo (some few years ago) and they did provide live animals as food for some of their other animals. However, I admit that this did not include (to my knowledge) the big cats or other large predators.

    I do enjoy zoos because they provide me the opportunity to see animals I would never have the chance to see otherwise. Like many of the others here, I have often witnessed behavior by other guests that is juvenile and potentially dangerous.

    Freedom – as implemented in the U.S. today – is a risky thing; it does not prohibit stupid and potentially self-destructive behavior. There was a time when society regulated such things as beyond the norm but we seem to have chosen free expression over more structured public behavior in recent years. Like zoos, I admire freedom of behavior in priniple but the implementation leaves much to be desired.

  23. #23 Freddy the Pig
    December 29, 2007

    A year or 2 ago an engineering student working a summer job surveying was attacked and killed by wolves in northern Ontario. He had gone into the bush on a day off to do sme sketching. This was the first well documented wild wolf fatiality in Canada. Several years ago, a captive pack in Halliburton Ontario killed a woman was feeding them.

    Shortly before the engeering student was killed, elsewhere in northern Ontario, a miner was attacked by a lone wolf while jogging. Some of his co-workers drove off the wolf. In that case a large number of wolves (many more than a normal pack) were scavenging the dump at the site. After the attack, the mining company fenced the dump and went after the wolves with cracker shells and plastic bullets etc. This got rid of most of the wolves, but they still ended up killing a few that would not leave.

    The frequency of encounters between humans and large carnivores such as bears or cougars that do not end with the human being eaten leads me to think that our strangeness causes them to be cautious. A zoo animal that sees humans every day will probably not be cautious when it has the opportunity to attack a human.

  24. #24 Dave S.
    December 29, 2007

    I is often explicitly stated that this or that carnivore does not like the taste of human flesh. This is an urban myth.

    I have often heard this not so much about land carnivores, but about the white shark. Its said that it doesn’t like the taste of human flesh, or the texture maybe – as its expecting a nice fat fishy sea lion mouthful and ends up spitting out boney weird tasting primate bits. Some sharks do munch on humans, as is evidenced by the stories of sailors forced overboard in wartime when their ships get shot out under them. But that’s what I heard about the great white. Could be all apocryphal.

    The real nasties are not the big animals, but those little bastards. Flies and mosquitoes, carrying even smaller little bastards.

  25. #25 wilsonth
    December 29, 2007

    While we are talking about the fine line between instinct nature and what makes an animal “dangerous” I am curious what the difference is between large carnivorous caged cats and large carnivorous domesticated canines. Do you think the short span of domestication has changed them that drastically? Dogs attack and kill people very frequently; nevertheless, the legal mindset for those is that it is the specific ferocious dog and not dogs themselves. Shouldn’t the treatment and understanding between the two predators be similar if not the same?

    Along these same lines I wouldn’t necessarily agree with the “disneyification” hypothesis as mentioned above. People see “tame” lions, tigers and bears performing tricks at zoos/circuses and especially on television all the time. Furthermore, their typically harmless dogs and cats do the same tricks and safely share their homes. Wouldn’t domestication of these carnivores most likely cloud the concept of “animalness” in most peoples minds?

  26. #26 Greg Laden
    December 29, 2007

    Wil: Good point about canids vs. cats. But, one could say that it would make sense that domestic dogs be treated differently than caged wild animals. Caging tigers does not domesticate them.

    It may even be the case that we are not so much treating wild (caged or not) carnivores like “people” as much as we are treating them like dogs, in this sense.

    Regarding the Disney effect: Have you been, say, to the Milwaukee County Zoo?

  27. #27 muhr
    December 29, 2007

    “Because people don’t think of themselves as meat.”

    Maybe the zoos should take a page from the law which requires cigarette companies to put graphic images of cigarette related diaseases on their cigarette packs. They should put up a few pictures of what a human looks like after a run in with for example a lion.

    Of course, I’m only joking.

  28. #28 wilsonth
    December 29, 2007

    No, I am afraid I haven’t been to the one you are talking about; although, I can imagine what it is like by what you are implying. And I am also on the fence about the benefits vs costs of zoos, our own here in HIlo is pretty bad… Still this is about the relationship between humans and predatory animals, and your proposed question of “Why do people not get this?” I would be hesitant to completely blame disneyification and exempt our relationship with “man’s best of friend.” My own experience is as a premed student who volunteers in the emergency room on the big island of Hawaii. Dogs attacks are regular in any ER for a lot of reason though here we also have some rare cases involving people getting attacked after trying to be overly affectionate to a feral doggie. About the domestication vs caging issue I just don’t think it is quite that simple. Mainly a lot of people just cage their own dogs and it is therefore not surprising that when these caged carnivores do escape they cause tragedies. While at the same time a lot of trained wild animals seemingly give the image of domestication. The questions seems to be about which carnivorous predators should we trust, and factoring in pets the lines get fuzzier.

    Also I am responding to “Officially, an animal goes from one that need not be killed on sight to one that must be killed, even if it is well caged. In other words, the animal are treated the same way that people are treated. Innocent (no death sentence) until proven guilty, but if proven guilty, executed as a killer. There is no gray area, no fine line, in this reasoning.”

    And I do agree with you and think this is a great post. We are talking about the relationship between people and animals where hardly a discrete line exists and issues such as killing, predation, wildness and domestication become much more entangled. I think you are claiming that Tatiana was a victim of us inappropriately projecting our own guilty/not guilty system of law onto a wild animal, and therefor after the attack Tatiana should not necessarily have been put down. Which I agree with. Is this sort of what you were intending? And for the record, I really do otherwise like dogs, its just that their wild nature can come out sometimes around strange smelling visitors, or if they have been improperly raised. I am just unsure about whether after an attack a dog should or shouldn’t be put down, and can we come up with a fair system that can include all incidents of animal/man attacks?

  29. #29 Timeby
    December 29, 2007

    Justin Moretti; Re your question “…rabbits kill each other (perhaps not realistic – any lapine experts out there?)”
    I am not an ‘expert’ but I have raised rabbits (for meat – excellent by the way). I have observed that, if you leave a male in a cage with young, the male (and sometimes the female without the males presence) will kill the young. I have even seen results that make me think that the males, at least, ate some of the young’s flesh!

  30. #30 Greg Laden
    December 29, 2007

    Adult male rabbits will fight to the death now and then.

  31. #31 Gerry L
    December 29, 2007

    As a long-time zoo volunteer, I can’t count the number of times I have seen people lift strollers up onto the railing of the tiger exhibit to give the kid a better look (or the cat a better look at the kid?) People dangle kids over wolf and bear exhibits and hold small children up to the mesh so they can feed leaves to a gibbon (a very aggressive gibbon).

    I don’t think it is only a disney-fication of animals. I think Americans are too used to being protected from themselves. Many people figure “If it’s so dangerous I wouldn’t be able to do it.”

    A few months ago I was at the Grand Canyon — just a few weeks after a little girl went over the edge to her death. There is nothing there to keep you from taking a step too far. We are so “civilized” that some people have no concept of natural danger. (But they’re scared to death of terrorists.)

  32. #32 Joseph O'Sullivan
    December 30, 2007

    Great white sharks are known to be selective feeders. They eat marine mammals selectively and choose food items that give them maximum payoff during seasonal abundance. For example they don’t feed on sea otters because they have through evolutionary pressure focused on seals and sea lions.

    As far as zoos pushing conservation it depends on the zoo. My experience with zoos is limited to New York City’s Wildlife Conservation Society which does a great deal of work on science and conservation throughout the world. I can’t say either way if zoo visitors are influenced to support conservation, but conservation is a clearly part of their exhibits.

    If we expand the argument to aquariums, aquariums like Monterrey Bay have been successful in public campaigns. The efforts to get swordfish off restaurant menus worked in part because of aquariums involvement. It worked because public aquariums don’t have the same reputation as extremist the environmental groups have. Chefs were more receptive to the environmental groups when aquariums joined.

  33. #33 Freddy the Pig
    December 30, 2007

    Here in the Province of Alberta, Canada if a bear attack is considered defensive ie a hiker surprising momma bear and cubs, the authorities usually close off the area so there are no more incidents and leave the bear alone. However, if the attack is considered predatory, the bear is killed.

    For some reason, a female grizzly withh cubs doesn’t consider a hiker to be food when the hiker goes down after recieving a good swat or two. I find this surprising sincee the Eastern Slopes of the Rockies are not great bear habitat and I would expect them to take advantage of any extra protein and calories they could get.

  34. #34 TSK
    December 30, 2007

    > In a comment that is a reply to a comment on a post I’m
    > not going to document this for you … but I am not
    > speaking out of any orifice than a reasonably well
    > educated mouth in this matter.

    I hope you keep this in mind before dismissing another opinion as “anecdotal evidence” when you don’t like it…
    ;-)…but anyway Durrheim and Legat confirm your experience.
    In “Risk to tourists posed by wild mammals in South Africa”
    there were 7 killings and 14 attacks on tourists during a 10 year period:

    Killings – 4 lions, 2 hippos, 1 elephant
    Attacks – 5 hippo, 3 buffalo, 2 rhino,
    1 lion/leopard/elephant/zebra

    Fits to your experience. But the numbers may be skewed in favor of the lions because of the land/water ratio, e.g. in Niassa National Reserve (Mozambique), a swampy area, crocs killed 57 people compared to 34 by lions (according to a report by Begg 2007, no data on hippos).
    But my main point was that the danger of wild animals does not depend on being a carnivore, but on their wildness.

    With the information of Freddy the Pig I digged up the name of Kenton Carnegie, a 22 year old student who was killed
    by a pack in Saskatchewan, Canada.

  35. #35 Greg Laden
    December 30, 2007

    TSK: Good information thanks. Sorry if I was a little testy… I resist having what I work on dictated by reactions to what I work on. That may seem funny but it actually makes a lot of sense.

    Anyway, yes, the non-carnivores are often underrated.

    I’ve guided a number of African tours, and it is necessary to manage the tourists. I suppose having them believe that Babmbi-on-up is dangerous aves lives and trouble. People are pretty much automatically afraid of lions.

    My first encounter with a wild lion was at night and the lion was less than one meter from me. Everything I had ever learned about lions went out the window at that moment, and I became a person who was afraid of lions, and have been ever since. I “worked with them” (a difficult to define term … may be better “lived in their midst” because I only did a little actual research with them) quite a bit after and never once became less afraid.

    Oh, I’m babbling. … must get coffee drive 300 miles. See you in a couple/few days

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