The Christmas Day tragedy at the San Francisco Zoo is getting curiouser and curiouser: it's now being reported that the father of deceased boy Carlos Sousa, Jr., called one of the two survivors to ask where his son was at a time pretty contemporaneously to the attacks, and they told him that they hadn't seen Carlos. And, they're not being cooperative with authorities. Hmmmm. Wonder why.
Tiger experts are looking at the known actions of Tatiana to report what they reveal - and they are suggesting that something unusual was going on near her confined area. Whether or not that involved taunting the tiger or not, no one is saying. What remains clear is that the area is still an active crime scene.
It's getting to be more and more like an episode of CSI Miami.
Meanwhile, here in Texas, we're maybe a bit more comfortable (jaded? less shocked?) about tigers in the news. For example, just today the dead body of a tiger similar to Tatiana was discovered by the side of IH35 near Dallas. Declawed, with a collar and a bullet to the head.
And, this past July, the San Antonio Zoo had an experienced handler miraculously escape death as another Sumatran tiger mauled him in an non-public area. The zookeeper was pulled from the tiger as the animal was trying to haul him into the cat's lair by his head. (The zookeeper survived.)
But these two stories are just the beginning.
In 2005, animal rescue authorities estimated that private zoos across the US held as many as 20,000 big cats. Yes, that is 20,000 - while today's news reports are stating that there are less than 1000 Sumatran tigers alive today in captivity.
National Geographic estimates that for every tiger in a zoo, there are ten (10) more in private ownership.
Here in Texas, it's known that certain Texas ranches actually buy tigers (and lions and other big cats) just so Big Bwana Wannabes can come down here and go on a "hunt" and shoot the cats down. (Presumably, they are then stuffed and FedEx'd back for the Bwana's Office Ego Wall.)
Here's a synopsis of these Big White Hunters in action, in an article written by Ted Williams for Audubon magazine and quoted by Satya:
“In fact,” writes Williams, “before being ‘harvested,’ African lions raised as pets would amble over and lick your hands.” Williams tells of one hunter who had paid $10,500 to kill a leopard, a cougar and a Bengal Tiger. Unfortunately, Williams continues, “before the tiger left its cage, [the hunter] fainted and had to be taken back to the ranch to be revived.” Williams says that tigers, leopards, cougars and jaguars are often fed chicken to make them less aggressive just before they are to be shot. Some of them become reluctant to leave their cages, so are shot while still in them."
Tigers as Status Symbols
It's also known here in South Texas that owning big cats is a status symbol for those involved in the drug trade. Tigers for pets are common here and in Mexico. I suppose they make good watchdogs, too - if you're involved in illegal activity, having it known that you keep a tiger around might be considered savvy.
Tigers Roaming Wild in Rural Texas
It's also known here in Texas that there are tigers roaming out in the wild. One example: the tiger cub spotted near the Saline River back in 1999. Another: the tiger roaming around Atascosa County (that's next to San Antonio) in 2005. (No news reports that either was caught or killed, or whether that cub had a mother out there with it.)
My Two Cents Worth
Legally, I'm sure that the San Francisco Zoo is going to be sued for the Christmas Day incident - surely there will be a Wrongful Death case brought by the family of Carlos Sousa, and probably personal injury suits by the two surviving brothers. And, even if they did taunt the cat, they'll urge that it doesn't matter: the cat was inherently dangerous, and the Zoo had a black-letter duty to protect the public regardless of the public's culpability.
However, what all these different stories about tigers tells me -- canned hunts, private zoos, pets -- is that humans simply do not respect these preditors for what they are: magnificent beasts designed to kill. And there may be a valid legal defense in that, if those boys did tease Tatiana on that fateful day.
Stupid is stupid, and I'm voting that if that tiger jumped the fence without provocation, then the zoo must pay. However, the right lawyer and the right jury, and those boys jerking around with that beautiful danger, and the zoo just might not be found liable.
Be that unbelievably dumb, and maybe you've assumed the risk.