Several things disturb me about our relationship with animals. The stimulus for this blog post was a picture of a person kissing a tiger with a subtitle suggesting the person was fearless. The person is not fearless; he is encouraging people to endanger themselves. The thrills we experience from looking at such pictures is because we realize wild animals are dangerous. What are we to think when we see a picture of someone handling a harmless turtle, snake, or a ground hog—even if it nipped the mayor’s ear? Perhaps the thrill, in this case, is not that it is dangerous but that a person is violating a wild animal’s sanctuary. I suspect the idea is the same as having an animal caged, dangerous or not. It is within the range of my experience of having a colleague have his hand grabbed by a gorilla that proceeded to eat his fingers. Or, as a friend said he knew he was at a convention of herpetologist be the number of people he saw who were missing fingers and hands.
Some sense it is morally wrong to deprive an animal of its freedom. Others of us are conflicted over this as evidenced by zoo facilitators to cage an animal as evidenced by the attempt of some zoos to establish “realistic” habitats. The problem with natural habitats in zoos is that the center of attention often hides from the view of visitors. It seems the best of all worlds is to view the animal of interest in their natural habitat, unfortunately, this means that most of us would never see them. The solution is that we should keep trying to figure out how we can properly feed and house captive wild animal in for educations purposes, an endeavor that needs improvement.
These thoughts extend to the correctness of a private person housing a lion or a monkey, for example, not for exhibit but for his or her own private satisfaction. The fate of these animals is often the same sad story; captured as “cute” babies, house until they are ugly dangerous adults, then turned loose into the wilds to starve or be killed. Did you know that orangutans grow to about 200 pounds and stand five feet in height—not exactly, something you would want as a member of your family? Sadly, orangutan sanctuaries in Indonesia and Malaysia are full of such animals. It is interesting to think about his in terms of domestic animal; horses, cows, pigs, sheep, and goats on display in New York City would be of value for educational purposes.
While teaching at the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) in Africa I had a conversation with a wildlife service employee, she told me that the elephant herd was growing in population so much they were destroying their habits. The American media had schooled me about how elephants were a protected species—sometimes associated with collecting money to save elephants. I was shocked to hear they were thinking of “thinning” out the population. When I asked about how many animals she was talking about shooting, she staggered me with the number 16,000 to 17,000; I still do not believe it but it is not what you will ever read about in the news. This is a country where there is a ban on killing elephants for their valuable ivory tusks. As a consequence of that law, the wildlife service had confiscated a huge pile of “poached”: tusks. Because it was illegal to sell ivory, their solution was to burn them, which they did. As a side story, a grass fire had burned the feet and legs of a baby elephant. The veterinary college at UZ housed and treated it until it recovered; they could not turn it loose because they had fed it on garden grown vegetables and it would head for the market.
A friend I met in Belize was born and raised in Zimbabwe, when it was still Rhodesia. As a young man, he told me he made his living by spears fishing in the Zambezi River. I found this hard to believe because when I was in that country forty or fifty years later, the river was so full of crocodiles that fishing guides warned anglers about even washing their hands in the river because young crocodiles would come from under the boats and bite them. Need I mention that the government started and rigorously enforced a crocodile preservation program?
In Belize, the government protects big cats, such as mountain lions and jaguars. As a sheep rancher living at the interface of the Mountain Pine ridge preserve and civilization, I expected this problem. My neighbors often lost their dogs to them. I lost 140 sheep to big cats and dogs over a 10 to 15 year period. When I had an especially persistent cat problem, they I would call forestry department and they would send out a live trap. I felt good about it because I was told they would release the animals in other parts of the country but later I was told the sold them to zoos. I have a picture of one we trapped while in the trap with a missing lower left canine tooth; that cat disappeared.
Have you seen the picture on the nightly news of coyotes or black bear prowling the suburbs? Homeowners are afraid to go out into their back yards. They are advised not to put dog food outside on their porches or patios.
We have a lot to learn about how to manage wild animals; in fact, judging by experiences I have had all my live we have a lot to learn about how to manage domestic animals as well.
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