Exotic Animals

by Kathy Guillermo and Heather Moore

While Roy Horn, of Siegfried & Roy fame, lies in critical condition in a California hospital, his employees and other well-wishers are shaking their heads over the tragic accident. Excuse us, but "accident"?

Montecore, the 7-year-old tiger who is part of Siegfried & Roy's menagerie, did not simply trip. He lunged at Horn, grabbed him by the neck and dragged him off stage, giving every indication that he had murder on his mind. The one thing that this incident was not was an "accident."

Another thing that it was not is unusual. Recent news stories are showing us in a painfully graphic way that we should not be imprisoning exotic animals. Lawmakers should sit up and take note. It's dangerous to us, and for them it's unmitigated misery.

Recently, a gorilla called Little Joe escaped from his enclosure in Boston's Franklin Park Zoo, grabbed a toddler from a young woman's arms, threw her to the ground and jumped on her. Soon after Roy was wheeled off stage on a gurney, authorities in New York City discovered a 400-pound Siberian-Bengal-mix tiger and a 5-foot-long alligator in a Manhattan apartment. While the animals were being removed from the fifth-floor apartment, the man who lived there was in the hospital, being treated for bite wounds.

Since 1990, big cats have killed at least 53 people worldwide and injured 180. Twenty-four of these attacks occurred just this year, most of them in the U.S., in cities including Sacramento, Calif.; Jacksonville, Fla.; and San Antonio, Texas. In April, tigers at Safari Joe's Rock Creek Exotic Animal Park in Adair, Okla., attacked and killed a handler. One tiger grabbed her arm and pulled her into the cage as she was giving them water, and other tigers in the cage pounced on her. Another worker beat the tigers with a shovel to break up the attack and to retrieve the woman's body and her severed arm. The tigers had been displayed at fairs and used in photo opportunities with the public.

Statistics are equally grim for primates. At least 450 captive primates have been killed for attacking people since 1990. Two people have died and 140 have been injured.

At the risk of sounding disrespectful, we have to ask, what is wrong with us that we can't figure out how life-threatening this is? How many more children will be killed, as was a 3-year-old boy in Lee Country, Texas, when the 250-pound tiger he was having his picture taken with snatched him from the adult holding him?

Given these gruesome accounts, only a few of which is there space to mention here, it's a mystery to us why Siegfried & Roy were ever allowed to keep and force these animals to perform. We wish Mr. Horn well and have sent our best wishes to his hospital room, but anyone who's honest has to admit that it's a miracle that he hasn't been mauled before this. These animals aren't housecats; they are enormous, magnificent predators who were never meant to purr on command and nuzzle a man.

These tragedies just underscore the study results printed in the scientific journal Nature this month. Zoologists at Oxford University confirm what has always been obvious to those who paused to consider: Animals suffer in captivity. The study, which was partly funded by six British zoos, indicates that polar bears, lions, tigers, cheetahs and other large predators that roam hundreds of miles in the wild, show stereotypical symptoms of stress and have high rates of infant mortality when kept in zoos or safari parks. The researchers recommend against keeping these animals in captivity if adequate space can't be provided-which, of course, can never be provided in a zoo.

No wonder they turn on the people who keep them locked up, attacking and killing when given the opportunity.

Basic common sense will tell you that exotic animals have no desire to be ripped away from their families and homes and everything that is natural to them and put on display for our amusement-no matter how spacious and stimulating their enclosures or how loving their captors. Roy's tigers deserve to spend their remaining years in a sanctuary, and the breeding and keeping of exotics should be relegated to the past.

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