When tigers cross the walls

i-2dbdccb0227da00cf3954932c9b59523-tiger.jpgMere days after the skinned and beheaded remains of a Siberian tiger were found in a Chinese zoo, a Siberian tiger in the San Francisco zoo jumped the moat around its exhibit area and attacked three visitors, killing one. Police shot and killed the tiger, so we can only speculate about any link between those incidents.
The same tiger had attacked a keeper just over a year ago, chewing the flesh of keeper Lori Komejan’s arm during a public feeding demonstration. The zoo’s other Siberian tiger and its three Sumatran tigers are not suspected of assisting in yesterday’s escape. Out of respect for the victims (and presumably for other reasons), the zoo is closed today.

When I was growing up in New York, the Prospect Park Zoo went through major renovations after polar bears killed an 11 year-old. In that instance, the boy and his friends had climbed into the enclosure, triggering the bears’ territorial instincts. In redesigning the enclosure, the zoo pointed out that the cages and moats are not meant just to keep the animals in.

That point was driven home while I was in Kansas. A pack of feral dogs got into one of the enclosures at the Kansas City zoo and killed six gazelles. The zoo was in particularly bad shape at that time, and struggling to regain its accreditation with the national zoo and aquarium society.

You might have expected a reference somewhere here to Blake’s “Tyger, tyger burning bright,” but the real lesson to learn is from Robert Frost’s response to the claim that: “Good fences make good neighbors.”

As Frost observes, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.” The goal with zoos, with nature as a whole, and as a general matter, is to be a good neighbor. Sometimes the wall is what we need, to keep children from bears or the teeth of tigers, to keep fires from burning our houses, or to keep floodwaters from ravaging our cities. The danger comes when we are out of practice dealing with our neighbors beyond the walls, and treat the wall as a goal in its own right.

We saw that when the Gulf cross our levees into New Orleans. Proper consideration of events beyond the levees could have protected the city, by maintaining coastal wetlands which would break a storm surge and slow an approaching hurricane. In that case, the walls, once breached, only served to trap the water inside the city.

I wonder if we aren’t seeing the same thing happening on the border with Mexico. There are people who think that a wall on the border would improve our relationship with Mexico, that a good fence would make us better friends. As Frost says:

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.


  1. #1 Evil Bender
    December 26, 2007

    Great points! And as a science defender and poet, let me just say that I’m thrilled to read a post that actually understands Frost’s point. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen the line “good fences make good neighbors” quoted as though it were the position of the Frost poem. Thanks for the insight.

  2. #2 vanderleun
    December 27, 2007

    Yes, a reasonable insight into the Frost poem, but not the only insight to be taken from the quoted passage. Like all fine poetry it reads in a radial way. The “something” may or may not be benign, just to suggest one tangent.

  3. #3 McDuff
    December 28, 2007

    May not be benign, to suggest a tangent?

    And what, might I enquire further, should we tangent into suggesting isn’t “benign” in Mexico?

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