Tiger escape highlights larger problems

By Hannah Leung Source:Global Times Published: 2012-5-14 20:40:04

It was reported that a Bengal tiger escaped from the Wild Animal Park near the Badaling section of the Great Wall last Saturday, after meticulously jumping an electrical fence at the interval it was turned off. This beckons two questions: One, I had no idea there was a tiger park in such close proximity; and two, while I am daunted by the idea that there could have been a voracious creature at large in Beijing - life here is quite eventful - I'm not sure which side I'm rooting for in this scenario: the tiger or the captives.

At the Badaling Wild Animal Park, visitors can release chickens to tigers by paying a small fee, promising a feathery massacre. The idea of active participation in a guaranteed, gruesome spectacle is a bit sickening, but for others, these satirical deaths provide a few laughs. As I'm inclined to be in the former group, the slightly perverse feeding ritual represents to me the overall treatment of animals held captive.

In captivity, tigers are not able to carry out their natural hunting instincts; running after a car that releases chickens does not count. Like most living animals, they are plagued with boredom, cooped up in enclosed space, with the only entertainment coming from dangling chickens and gawking audiences.

But, if these tigers in the animal park were treated well and lived an otherwise fruitful life, then the biggest controversy is that the fleeing tiger could have eaten a child for lunch. It was reportedly caught within 10 minutes. (Security still needs to step it up.)

Tiger farms in China made global headlines two years ago, when pictures of emaciated tigers, kept in isolation and starved for their skin and bones, surfaced. These farms exist because the demand for tigers, for medicinal or perverse aesthetic purposes, is high. Traditional Chinese medicine has always valued the apparent healing abilities the magisterial creature provides. The website tigersincrisis.com, set up by conservationist Craig Kasnoff, lists the benefits Chinese practitioners believe tiger parts provide. Whiskers, for example, can be used to treat toothache. So can acetaminophen or ibuprofen!

While the Badaling Wild Animal Park is not a tiger farm, it operates on a fairly similar principle, in which these animals are kept solely for entertainment purposes. Zoos are arguably at least a bit more educational.

In an ideal world, all wild animals should remain, well, wild. Human efforts and intervention aimed at preserving and breeding otherwise extinct animals are necessary in many cases. Thus, while a "wildlife preserve" would sway people into thinking captivity is a good thing, an "animal park" sends very different connotations.

I am supportive of preserving endangered animals, but why parade these animals around as a spectacle? If such venues exist, they should at least mimic natural environments. Maybe it's all the silly cartoons I've watched about animals escaping from the zoo, but part of me wishes that the captured animals could flee somewhere far away, to a safe haven for them and for humans.

Posted in: Viewpoint, Twocents-Opinion

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