January 18, 2008

Tiger + Drunk Teens = Trouble

Okay, who's really surprised by this?

Police have announced that the teenage boys who were attacked by a tiger at the San Diego Zoo were in fact drunk, high, and gesticulating at the cat before it calmly leaped out of its pen and started clawing.

"As a result of this investigation, (police believe) that the tiger may have been taunted/agitated by its eventual victims," said Inspector Valerie Matthews, according to the Associated Press.

Kulbir Dhaliwal, one of the teens who survived, later told police that the three had smoked pot and each had "a couple shots of vodka" before heading over to the zoo, AP reports.

Of course it's tragic that a young man was killed in this incident, and the zoo needs to figure out exactly why its tiger enclosure wall was four feet shorter than it should have been.

But this is also a classic case of the way a human-interest piece can vilify wild animals. No one mourned the tiger, which was shot dead on the scene. Never mind the fact that it was a Siberian tiger, of which only 400 to 500 are believed to exist in the wild in the whole world.

It's also kind of damning of zoos in general. I have turbulently mixed feelings about facilities that host wild animals in tiny enclosures. Are they for education and conservation, or spectacle and tourism? Is money better spent on captive breeding (like many zoos do work on) or habitat conservation?

There're no easy answers here, other than anyone who taunts a tiger—no matter how high the walls are—is a candidate for the Darwin Awards.

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