Saturday, April 4, 2020

Flashback 2000: The g-r-r-r-r-r-eatest threat to mankind

Tiger, by Kishi Ganku (Metropolitan Museum)
     I'm trying to never say that I enjoy having the boys around, because it's a short hop from that to "Isn't this pandemic FUN?" and I want to avoid that at all costs. 
    Still, I think it's safe to say I am more plugged in with them under my roof. For instance, the burst of publicity over the aptly-named hit "Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness" documentary series on Netflix meant nothing to me. Low rent Florida Safari Steves in mullets and eyebrow rings peddling nature's most beautiful animal to underwrite their louche lives. Pass. That lasted until my older son said, "You want to watch a series about tigers?"
    "Sure," I said, and watched the first two episodes Thursday night. OMG. I must admit, I recommend it. Yes, the people are thoroughly unpleasant, every single one. But the thing does explain how we ended up with Trump. And the tigers are gorgeous. It made me think of this column—Tip No. 3 is particularly relevant, as you'll see if you watch the program. I can't believe I haven't posted it before. Back then, I wondered how so many people can be mauled by tigers. Having seen two episodes, the wonder is that there aren't many more. 

     The drawback of these political conventions is they don't address the real problems facing Americans today.
     Tiger attacks, for example.
     While politicians talk, the risk of tiger attack is on the rise, based on my unscientific reading of the news wires, and nobody is doing anything about it.
     Just this week, the latest mauling took place in Boise, Idaho. A woman was attending a fund-raiser at the Boise Zoo (it calls itself "Zoo Boise," but that doesn't mean we have to). The unfortunate lady at the annual "Feast for the Beast" (I wonder what the fundamentalists make of that) found herself in a hallway outside the tiger building, the door of which, in a curious lapse, was left unlatched.
    She got off pretty light, considering. At least she had her arms and legs when the tiger was done, which is not always the case with tigers. The most damage seems to have been inflicted not by the animal, but by a local police officer, who showed up on the scene and managed to shoot the woman in the thigh, breaking the bone. (Geez, what are the odds that being mauled by a tiger isn't the worst thing to happen to you in one day?)
     You might be so cavalier as to find this funny, forgetting that there is a real woman resting uncomfortably at Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center.
     I wouldn't dream of laughing at such a thing, not publicly, anyway. Rather, I am offering it as a cautionary tale. Since tiger attacks are, if not rising, then not nearly as infrequent as they should be, I have studied the alarming number of incidents over the last few years and come up with this list of commonsense tips to help you avoid tiger-induced injury. Think it couldn't happen to you? So did these people.

Tip No. 1: Children and tigers don't mix.

     A surprising number of parents in this country permit their children to get in very close proximity to a tiger.
     Lorin Casey Villafana, 10, was actually in the cage last year with her stepfather's pet tigers in Texas when one of them turned and killed her.
     Last March, a 4-year-old Texas boy, Jayton Tildwell, wandered away from a family reunion unnoticed, back to where the tiger pen was. He had his right arm bitten off at the elbow.
     In 1996, a 7-year-old girl visiting a television station was mauled by a tiger about to appear on a television program with her father, the education director of the Cincinnati Zoo.

Tip No. 2: Cameras don't make you immune.

     Jannell Waldo, 45, of San Jose, was clawed by a tiger in 1998 after falling while having her picture taken next to Juma, a 340-pound tiger, at Marine World in San Jose.
     Rather than scare people off, the attack prompted a surge of interest in Marine World's exotic animal photo sessions, though the theme park decided to exclude tigers, no doubt to people's disappointment.

Tip No. 3: Don't stick your arm in the cage:

     In May, a volunteer at the Prairie Wind Wild Animal Refuge in Colorado was asked if the tigers there were friendly.
     To demonstrate, she reached into the cage of Boris, a full-grown Siberian tiger, and petted him. Boris reacted by chewing the woman's arm off.

Tip No. 4: Be particularly careful if the tiger already has killed somebody.

     In November 1998, Doris Guay, a Florida tiger trainer, was leading Jupiter, a 400-pound white Bengal she had raised from a cub, when the animal turned on her and killed her with a single bite to the neck.
     A month previous, the same cat had killed its trainer, Charles Lizza, also with a bite to the neck. At the time Guay insisted Jupiter was not vicious.
     The tiger issue will not go away. I invited both the Brookfield and the Lincoln Park zoos to address tiger safety, and both refused. This timidity will not help anyone. Be careful around tigers.
              —Originally published in Sun-Times, Aug. 17, 2000


  1. I succumbed to the hype and watched the first Tiger King episode last night. Don’t know that I’ll finish it, but if I do, I hope it’s with my IQ intact.

  2. Wild animals are not, and never have been, truly tame pets. Not even those in other words, in zoos. I remember reading about a prominent NYC socialite who got drunk with her boyfriend and stumbled over to the Bronx Zoo. She then proceeded to antagonize a bear, by waving her scarf at it.

    The bear acted like a bear. It reached through the cage with its paw and tore her entire arm off. According to the story, this happened during the early months of 1945. So these types of incidents are nothing new. There has always been a strain of stupidity among humanity. And you can't fix stupid.


Comments are vetted and posted at the discretion of the proprietor.