June 1, 2017 by hotminnie
Put down devil dogs by all means, but it would be wrong to kill the tiger that mauled Rosa to death.
The death by tiger of Rosa King at Hamerton Zoo, Cambridgeshire, has aroused distress across the nation.
As we begin to piece together what went wrong and how such a terrible thing might be avoided in future, there have been suggestions the tiger should be killed.
If instead of a tiger it had been dangerous dogs that had mauled a person to death, they would have been put down. So why not kill the Hamerton Zoo tiger now, to avoid any chance he might do it again? I believe that this would be profoundly wrong, and a growing number of animal lovers who have signed up to a campaign to save the tiger’s life agree with me.
There is a fundamental difference between dangerous dogs and tigers — and not just a physiological one. Unlike dogs, even dangerous ones, tigers were not bred for domestic life. They’re not pets.
This is the main reason so many of us are fascinated by them. We are awestruck not just by their beauty, but by their wildness and potential ferocity.
They are the star attraction in zoos that enclose them because they are animals that could kill us in seconds. We watch them pace round their enclosures in the knowledge that these biggest of big cats are capable of highly efficient killing. A swipe of their paw can smash a cow’s skull. They can run at 40mph, leap huge distances and rear up on their hind legs to kill animals twice their size. In the wild they are insular, unfriendly and hunt alone, and they don’t often mix with other tigers.
Heavier and beefier than lions, their muscles are more powerful. They evolved to kill and eat large mammals — and the fact is that humans are large mammals.
Yes, poor Rosa’s death was a shocking thing but it would be unfair to execute a tiger for the crime of … being a tiger.
I suspect that some people want the tiger dead as a kind of revenge, not just for Rosa’s death but for the crime of questioning the dominance of humanity in the 21st century: ‘Here is a tiger that doesn’t know its place — clearly a capital offence.’
Others will say that the tiger has to go because he’s ‘acquired a taste for human flesh’. Well, I hope this doesn’t shock you, but all tigers have a taste for human flesh, and always have. Not because humans are especially tasty, but because so far as a tiger is concerned, all big mammals are potential sources of food: walking protein, meals on legs. We think we’re ever so special, but we’re just as tasty as the deer and wild cattle of Indian jungles.
We DON’T like to think of ourselves that way. We prefer to think we have a superior power that changes everything, but to a tiger we’re all one with the antelope and the buffalo.
True, there are stories of big cats acquiring a taste for human flesh. Two infamous lions, the Man-Eaters of Tsavo in Kenya, killed dozens of Indian workers building the Kenya to Uganda railway in 1898. They attacked at night over nine months until they were tracked and shot by a British colonel.
Why did they choose humans so relentlessly? It’s been blamed on drought and rinderpest disease killing off their natural prey and, more recently, on the lions having bad teeth which prevented them from killing animals. The truth, probably, is they killed humans because they were easy prey.
Man-eating is not a curious aberration for big cats. At Laetoli in Tanzania you can find the most heart-breakingly lovely thing: a set of ancient footprints, millions of years old, that appears to show two humans, adult and child, walking hand-in-hand. The prints were made in the days before humans were top dogs: when they walked in daily fear of predators. Humans first walked upright in Africa, and as soon as they descended from the trees and learned new ways of living, they became routine prey for lions.
Big cats have eaten humans across the millennia in which we have shared the planet — it just happens less frequently in modern times as we have armed ourselves against them better and driven them to the verge of extinction.
The fact that since those early days humans have invented civilisation and Shakespeare and the atom bomb doesn’t make much difference to the few large carnivores who still live on the earth, whether they are wild or in zoos.
Lions and tigers enthral us. We look at them in zoos and see their big white teeth and imagine what it must be like to face one unarmed and on foot. I don’t need to imagine myself; I’ve done it for real.
Some years back there was a face-off between me and a huge black-maned male lion at a distance of about a cricket pitch.
We had been forced to walk as our vehicle had broken down when we were travelling through the Zambian bush looking for a bird that had never been seen in the valley before. We were unarmed as we hadn’t been planning to walk. It was just bad luck.
Things came out all right because the lion wasn’t terribly hungry. When he appeared from the bush and snarled his snarl of anger and surprise, my natural instinct cut in. I stopped dead. Froze solid. That saved me. Had I run, that would have triggered his chase reflex and I’d have been killed. The most ancient instincts took over while the lion made up his mind what to do — not being hungry, he let me live.
Subsequent investigation showed his mind was on a sexy lioness. I’d interrupted him in the middle of a honeymoon; he was entitled to be cross. I certainly didn’t think he should be shot for understandable irritation. What this confirmed to me was lions are used to being predators — and we humans are used to being prey.
And that is why we love to look at the lions and tigers in our zoos. It’s also why we loved the television series The Hunt, with commentary by the great Sir David Attenborough, in which the predators of the world pursued and sometimes succeeded in killing their prey.
It’s also why people love to see big, dangerous mammals. I’ve co-led trips to the Luangwa Valley in Zambia (where my black-maned friend lives) and seen again and again how my guests want to get as close as they can to the lions.
Some long to see them kill. Some hope to avoid it — but when it happens, they gaze with fascination. It dawns on them that killing is what happens in the wild. A tiger does not have a moral choice — killing is as key as breathing.
You may prefer not to think about it, even though you know the cow that supplied your burgers is just as dead as the buffalo that feeds a lion. But when you see the immense power of a big cat, it reminds you of your own mortality. The experience is all the more unforgettable as it could so easily be you there being a light snack.
I have only once seen a tiger in the wild, when I was doing some work with the Wildlife Trust Of India. I was on elephant-back, and the tiger appeared before us as if the brown grass had leapt into flame. One half of me was lost in its beauty, another half filled with primeval fear, mesmerised by its great jaws and what they could do to my head. We followed it a short way, till it was gone from sight.
We love big cats and we fear them. We love tigers more than most big cats, and perhaps fear them more, too. They fill us with an atavistic terror and remind us we’re never quite as special as we like to pretend. We’re just mammals, the same as the tiger.
But we humans are in the position of power these days. It seems to me we should use that power with wisdom and magnanimity. That means we don’t shoot tigers who have upset us by being tigers. And while I weep for her death, I’m 100 per cent certain that Rosa King would agree.