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Here you will find information, musings, and pictures about life, the natural world and writing.

Friday, October 31, 2008

A Big Cat is Not Your Buddy

Thursday night, October 30, a volunteer at a place called Safari's Wildlife Sanctuary in Oklahoma entered the enclosure of a liger while it was feeding. The liger (a cross between a lion and a tiger) attacked, and the man died the following day. This was an experienced volunteer who had also interned at Tulsa Zoo, so it is very hard to understand why he went into the cage. The behavior of the cat, sadly, is not so difficult to comprehend. Predation is what cats do. My heart goes out to the family and friends of Peter Getz and to the staff of the sanctuary.

There is no doubt that the people involved in this sanctuary want the very best for the animals, but that is not the same as providing safe and professional care. If this sounds harsh, visit the sanctuary's website: http://www.safarissanctuary.org/ The home page shows the president with a tiger on a leash. Look at the slide show of animal pictures for another example.

I've seen this at an animal sanctuary in southern Oregon, the trust people place in animals they can't really ever know. Is it because we think humans are outside the ordinary rules of animal behavior? Indeed we are, to a certain extent. But ask yourself why a powerful cat should treat a smaller primate (that would be us) with any particular respect? Why on earth should we assume they love us? Other species have their own agendas! They have their reasons,their bad days, their peeves. Nothing about a human obligates them to treat us tenderly any more than they would one of their own kind.

I understand the powerful impulse to touch, pet, and otherwise interact with beautiful, dangerous creatures. There's nothing like it. It's wonderful. But putting yourself at risk for this thrill is also putting the animal at risk. Even the people who blithely say there are worse ways to die (and some animal people do) surely understand that killing a person puts the animal in terrible peril.

I don't know exactly what happened with Peter Getz, and I am so sorry he died. The sanctuary he supported, though, deserves the scrutiny it will surely receive.

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