TIGERS AND HUMANS: TOURISM, TIGER HUNTS, STUDIES AND PETS

TIGERS AND HUMANS


Tigers ranked near the top in a survey in the early 2000s on the world’s favorite animals. They have been deified in religions and starred in ancient myths and folk tales and have served as a symbol for nations, baseball teams, breakfast cereals and oil companies. Explaining mankind's fascination with tigers and other dangerous animals the eminent biologist E.O. Wilson once wrote: "We're not just afraid of predators, we're transfixed by them, prone to weave stories and fables and chatter endlessly about the them, because fascination creates preparedness and preparedness, survival. In a deeply tribal sense, we love our monsters."

Tigers are greatly admired in Asia. There are symbols for South Korea, where tigers don’t even exist anymore, and India. The Hindu goddess Durga used a tiger as here mount. Siva, the Hindu god of destruction, sat in a tiger skin. In China, the tiger is the 12th sign on the Chinese calendar and is widely regarded as a auspicious.

Tigers have been known in the West at least since Roman times. Tigers brought in from Turkey were featured in gladiator battles and were used as mascots. Bacchus was pictured on a mosaic riding a chariot pulled by tigers. Nero kept a whole stable of them. In modern times tigers have popped in Winnie the Pooh stories and in Calvin and Hobbs comic strips.

Among the people who live around tigers, tigers are regarded as a blessing for keeping wild boar and deer from devouring crops and a curse for occasionally killing people and installing fear in places where they roam. By the same token, tigers have had enough bad experiences with humans to stay clear of them. For the most part tigers avoid encounters with humans

Book: Man-Eaters of India by Jim Corbett (1957, Oxford University Press)

The Tiger By William Blake



Tiger! Tiger! burning bright
In the forest of the night
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What hand dare seize thy fire?

And what shoulder, & what art
Could twist the sinews of the heart?
And why thy heart began to beat
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? What the chain?
In what furnace was the brain?
What the anvil? What dread grasp
Dare us terrors grasp?

When the stars threw down the spears
And the water’d heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the lamb make thee?

Tiger Tourism in India


in Ranthambore National Park

Corbett National Park---one of India's finest tiger reserve---is located in the foothills of the Himalayas in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand, Project Tiger was launched in Corbett National Park in 1973 when the tiger population in the park was 44. Since then the number of tigers in the park, named after the famous British hunter Jim Corbett, has increased to about 175.

Vijay Joshi of Associated Press wrote in 2007: Visitors to Corbett National Park---about 160,000 come every year---usually spend two days at the lodge. Lodge officials arrange elephant and Jeep safaris that set out twice a day---once at dawn and again before dusk when most animals come out to hunt or forage. Elephant safaris are highly popular and get booked days in advance. We were slow in booking and had to settle for the Jeep. [Source: Vijay Joshi, Associated Press, April 3, 2007]

“Our first day proved to be fruitless. Riding in an open Jeep, we crisscrossed the dirt tracks across the dry brown grasslands and stopped at a spot where a tiger was seen a day before. But patience proved futile and as dusk began to approach we hurried back to the lodge before the curfew. Big mistake. M.C. Klaarwater, a young Dutch engineer on his second trip to India, lingered and came across a frolicking tiger, leaping over the grass, its black-tipped tail up in the air. He even had pictures to prove it. That evening M.C. proved to be the most popular man at the lodge with all residents lining up to see the pictures on his digital camera. [Ibid]

“With renewed vigor, despite near freezing temperatures, we set out at dawn the next day to the same spot and parked ourselves. The stillness of dawn was soon broken by jungle sounds. To us they were just sounds. To our guide, the language was jungle telegraph: a Sambhar deer was alerting its herd and another species, a barking deer, had issued its warning as well. "It's definitely somewhere here," the guide whispered, urging everybody to keep still and quiet. As the minutes ticked away, The warning calls became more frequent. Soon, the white-and black furred Langur monkeys, perched atop tall Sal trees, joined the chorus with loud "keeee... keeee." They could clearly see the tiger from their vantage point. [Ibid]

“Tension mounted as the monkeys' shouts became cacophonous. The tiger was certainly there, but where was it going to emerge from? Suddenly, we all saw a flash of orange and black in the thick shrubs under the trees. Cameras trained and eyes peeled we tracked the blurred patches of galloping color. The rustling through the dry bushes was loud and clear.A gasp went up among the assembled audience---many more people had arrived by then in Jeeps including M.C.---as the majestic tiger bounded through the forest, onto the road in front of us, 50 yards away, before disappearing into the foliage again. [Ibid]

“A young woman squealed with excitement. Men said "wow" in hushed tones, and immediately began to look at their camera screens to see if the moment was trapped in digital magnificence. I did too. And realized with great chagrin that I had set the camera on manual and shot on extreme slow shutter speed. The picture turned to be shaky and blurred. M.C., on the other hand, wisely relied on automatic and got a series of terrific images. He was once again a popular guy back the lodge. Never mind. What I saw that day through my camera's viewfinder will be printed in my memory forever. [Ibid]

Living in Tiger Country


Some say Paduang women began wearing coils around their necks as protection from tigers

Reportedly from Sariska Tiger Reserve, India,Mark Magnier wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Mention tigers to the residents of Indok Village and you elicit an immediate growl. The community of 300 families on the periphery of the Sariska Tiger Reserve says it has lost 20 cows and water buffalo in the last several months and 1,000 in a generation. For those living at subsistence level and measuring their wealth in hooves, that's seen as a pretty good reason to hate tigers---and their protectors. [Source: Mark Magnier, Los Angeles Times, September 8, 2009]

"When the tigers attack our livestock, we're never compensated," said Buddhalal Meena, a farmer in his 40s dressed in a dirty undershirt, jabbing the air with a scythe to make a point. "But if our livestock enter the forest, even though we've lived here for centuries, they levy fines. We never do anything wrong, but we're the ones who suffer." [Ibid]

“The government-run Sariska has a huge stake in reducing the ire of the tigers' human neighbors. In 2005, the reserve discovered that it had no tigers left after poachers made off with the last one. Although villagers say they stopped losing cattle, the ensuing firestorm over the tigerless tiger reserve brought media ridicule, parliamentary inquiries and threats of funding cuts to Sariska. [Ibid]

“Villagers in Indok said they wished the tiger well, but not at their own expense. No one from the reserve has ever come and listened to their concerns, they said. Moreover, villagers are never hired for park jobs and farmers whose livestock enters the forest are forced to pay fines of $12 to $50, a substantial amount to them. The villagers said park workers created fake citations and pocketed the money. [Ibid]

Sharma said tensions and unfounded allegations were inevitable when tigers and humans lived in close proximity. But the villagers don't buy it. "We keep fences around our animals -- why can't they keep fences around theirs?" said Inder Kumer Meena, 24, a farmer. "All I can say is the government cares more about animals than it does about us."

Studying Tigers


picture of Sumatran tiger taken with a camera trap

Tigers have traditionally been tracked with elephants, immobilized with dart guns loaded with tranquilizers and outfit with radio collars so their movements could be tracked.

Tigers spend a good portion of their time concealed in dense bush. Tigers not seen outright can be tracked by listening for the alarm calls of languors, deer and birds and by looking out for paw prints and drags of a kill.

Tigers are captured for scientific purposes, similar to the way they were hunted by Nepalese aristocrats. Once a tiger has been located trackers fan out with 300-yard-long strips of white cloth and direct the tiger through a V-shaped funnel where they are shot with tranquilizing darts.

Tiger censuses are sometimes conducted by making plaster casts of tiger printers which enable researchers to tell one animal from another. Some wildlife officials shun the use of modern methods, like radio collars, because they considered the collars to be uncomfortable on the animals.

Counting Tigers in India

Rama Lakshmi wrote in the Washington Post, “Adding up wild tigers is a major undertaking that the Indian government completed in March 2011 after a yearlong $2 million sampling exercise with 470,000 forest foot patrols and 880 hidden cameras. The cat count, conducted every four years, estimated that the number of tigers in the wild in India has gone up from 1411 in 2006 to about 1706. The government is also investigating and reporting their deaths by sending a ranger team accompanied by independent observers every time a tiger carcass is found. [Source: Rama Lakshmi, Washington Post, April 24, 2011]


Bengal tiger range

“Not too long ago, India counted its tigers through the old paw-print method. But after reports that the method was prone to human errors and fraud, officials adopted camera trapping for the first time in 2006 during the previous census. In the current 2010 census, about 550 individual tigers were identified from photographs based on their unique stripe patterns.”There were three phases. First, we physically collected data about tiger presence through paw prints and scratch marks on trees. Then we examined the condition of the prey and used satellite mapping to assess forest cover. And finally we used camera traps in representative areas,” said B.K. Singh, chief wildlife warden of Karnataka. [Ibid]

“But some conservationists say that about 13 areas sampled this time were not included in the 2006 estimate. And these account for 288 of the 295 additional tigers reported. There were also reports that a few cameras malfunctioned and had to be replaced, thereby increasing the odds for data distortion. The cameras also showed a time lag, with photographs taken only after the tiger had walked away from most of the frame. In many places, the government survey kept the cameras on for more than the recommended 45 days in one spot. [Ibid]

But not everyone is impressed. “Tigers have a very high birth and death rate. You cannot track the decline and survival of the tiger population in surveys conducted every four years. The government should conduct annual surveys using cameras in a more intensive manner,” said K. Ullas Karanth, director of Center for Wildlife Studies and a pioneer in India in using camera traps to monitor tigers in the southwest state of Karnataka. “Since various threats faced by tigers do not appear to have diminished in last four years, it is difficult to explain the claimed reversal of the decline of tigers.” [Ibid]

Nepal Scientists to 'Poo-Print' Tigers

In October 2011, AFP reported: Scientists in Nepal are to build up the world's first national DNA database of the endangered Bengal tiger by collecting and recording a unique genetic fingerprint from each adult's faeces. Conservationists have relied in the past on the old-fashioned technique of photographing the big cat and recording footprints to study the population But the Center for Molecular Dynamics Nepal (CMDN) told AFP a two-year Tiger Genome Project would gather a raft of vital behavioural and genetic information to help conservationists better understand the species.[Source: Frankie Taggart, AFP, October 21, 2011]

"The whole idea is to scoop all the poop and get a genetic database of all the tigers in Nepal," said CMND researcher Diwesh Karmacharya. "In the past they used to use pugmarks -- which are the footprints -- and then they started using individual cameras," said Karmacharya. "There was a census done in 2009 and in 2010 and both used camera trapping. "They both worked really well but the information you get is not too detailed. You won't be able to tell more than how many tigers you have in the area of the survey." [Ibid]

“He said feces would enable researchers to glean the sex of individuals as well as the areas they had come from and a whole host of behavioural information, such as breeding habits. Karmacharya said that although other countries such as India had collected genetic information on Bengal tigers in the past, this would be the first systematic survey of a country's entire population. "The idea is to figure out whether the current boundaries are effective in housing a healthy genetic population of tigers," he said. The information will also help assess the percentage of males and females and whether tigers found dead in the border areas were from Nepal or India. [Ibid]


Huntiing the extinct Javan tiger


Tiger Hunting

Tiger hunting was mainly big in India and to a lesser extent in Indonesia. Dutch and British colonists in those countries sometimes killed tigers to assert their supremacy over local deities but mainly it was done for sport.. Tigers were never hunted by Southeast Asian people because many of them believed that tigers have human souls.

Tiger hunting was a passion for both the British and Indian elite. A century ago, India had about 100,000 tigers, and maharajas and British sahibs would dispatch dozens of them in a single hunt. A number of sports hunting companies called shikar were created to meet the demand. Captain James Forsyth of Bengal Staff wrote in 1871 that "although there is much in the sport of tiger-hunting that renders it inferior as a mere exercise...yet there is a stirring of the blood in attacking an animal before whom every other beats of the forest quails, an unarmed man is helpless as the mouse under the paw of the cat."

Col. Jim Corbett, the son of low-ranking Raj official, is regarded as the greatest hunter of man-eatoing tigers. Between 1920 and 1941, he killed 50 tigers responsible for killing over 2,000 people. Among his trophies was the notorious Champawat man-eater. In Man Eaters of Kumaon, Corbett wrote the tiger “killed two hundred human beings, and during the four years she had been operating in Kumaon had added two hundred and thirty-four. [Book: Man-Eaters of Kumaon by Jim Corbett (Oxford University Press, 1946)]



In the early 20th century thousands of tigers were claimed by European trophy hunters. After independence in 1947, thousands more were claimed by the Indian elite, When Queen Elizabeth visited India in 1960 she accompanied here husband on a tiger hunt in Ranthambhore. Tiger hunting was banned in 1970.

Maharajah Tiger Hunt in India and Tiger Snare in Burma

Maharajahs shot dozens, sometimes hundreds, of tigers each and decorated their palaces with tiger pelts and tiger heads and posed in front of piles of dead tigers. The Maharajah of Surguju was a very old man when he shot his 1,100th tiger with a rifle balanced on a stick. When he died he had killed 1,157 tigers, many from the backs of elephants. Tiger were still numerous enough in the 1950s when 130 were taken in a single hunt in northern India.

Maharajahs used to hunt tigers with hundreds of helpers and dozens of elephants. They often hunted tigers using several hundred stick-carrying beaters who called out "Bagh! Bagh!"---tiger! tiger! to flush the tiger out of the forest to a place where Maharajis and British sahibs waited on the backs of elephants and special hunting towers o mow dpwn the tiger when it appeared.

Sometimes tethered goats and other animals were used to attract tigers. One maharajah reportedly used elderly widows and small chidlren as bait. Nepalese aristocrats developed a technique later adopted by British hunters in which roles of white cloth, which tigers reportedly will not cross, where laid out to funnel tigers to an area where hunters waited.


tiger hunt tools

“What was to be done about the tiger?"Joseph Rock asked in his March 1922 article, "Hunting the Chaulmoogra Tree." In Burma (now Myanmar) on an expedition to gather rare seeds, Rock---a legendary explorer and botanist---visited a village terrorized by this wild cat. Two women had been killed, another badly wounded, and a two-year-old girl was missing. "All we found was a trail of blood which led into the forest," Rock wrote. [Source: Margaret G. Zackowitz, National Geographic, April 2004]

"I shall never forget how the poor husbands of the slain women worked on that trap," Rock recalled of the snare the villagers set. It got results. "The captured creature's rage was terrible to behold," and after "only a few minutes . . .20 spears ended its savage existence." The next day the grieving villagers woke to find "the sky still weeping over all this tragedy."

Captive Tigers

In the late 2000s there were about 13,000 captive tigers worldwide, including 4,900 in the United States. Of these zoo hold a relatively small number. In contrast there were only thought to be only 3,200 or so win the wild. [Source: National Geographic, November 10, 2009]

Many zoos are improving their tiger enclosures. Leonardo Haberkorn of Associated Press wrote: “Many municipal zoos have tried to transform themselves into animal conservation societies, replacing cramped iron cages with more natural animal pens and fostering habitat preservation to support the remaining animals in the wild. In keeping with a global conservation strategy first drafted in 1993 by the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the London Zoo this year renovated its tiger habitat — an area about one third of the entire Montevideo zoo, at a cost of about $4.8 million. [Source: Leonardo Haberkorn, Associated Press, September 13, 2013]

There's a surplus of big cats in captivity. They're no longer wanted by zoos and circuses. But thousands of people want them as pets, especially in the United States, and are willing to pay prices ranging from $1,500 for more common Bengal tigers to $7,000 each for white tigers. Tigers in private hands can be found in places as diverse as basements, backyards and traveling exhibitions. In Texas there are more pet tigers than the entire population of wild tigers.

Then there are the bigger issues. Leonardo DiCaprio and Carter S. Roberts wrote in the Washington Post, “The United States has nearly twice as many tigers in captivity as there are in the wild worldwide - tigers sleeping in American back yards, in private breeding facilities and at roadside zoos from New York to Texas. We need a federal agency to monitor these tiger "pets" and make sure they don't find their way into the same black market for wildlife products that kills wild tigers around the world. We can close loopholes in the Endangered Species Act and the Animal Welfare Act and give agencies such as the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Department of Agriculture the financial support they need to vigorously enforce animal protection laws. [Source: Leonardo DiCaprio and Carter S. Roberts, Washington Post, November 7, 2010]

A tiger in captivity can live up to 25 years.

Captive Tigers in the United States


Between 1996 and 2008 the world’s captive tigers killed at least 52 people and injured many more, from park guests to zookeepers. One man in Harlem in New York City kept a tiger in his fifth-floor, seven-room apartment until it attacked him. The presence of the 150-kilogram Bengal tiger became known in October 2003 when the man showed up at the hospital with a wound he claimed was from a pit bull. The tiger was removed by a team police who rappelled down from the roof of the building where the tiger lived and shot the animal with a tranquilizer gun. The man pleaded guilty to reckless endangerment but vowed to get the animal back. He also owned a 120-kilogram alligator. At last report the tiger was in an animal sanctuary in Ohio.

Describing one Americantiger owner, Marc Silver wrote in National Geographic, Vernon Yates took one of his 18 tigers to a party---his fee varies by event. “You can’t trust tigers,” a guest said. To prove her wrong, he told her he’d stick his head in the animal’s jaws and tug its tongue for $20. She had to pay up. The money goes to Yates’s Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation shelter, licensed by Florida to take in animals in distress. “I deal with the true dirt of society,” he says, telling of emaciated cats in squalid cages. He makes no apologies for his controversial style. He brings leashed cubs to schools for educational talks and takes his tigers on truck rides. [Ibid]

Emily Gersema of Associated Press, “Feed them lots of protein-rich food, refill the water dish frequently and provide ample space---tigers need room to play and sleep. That advice is what exotic pet dealers, breeders and animal exhibitors are hearing from the government. In a series of meetings this year and next, the Agriculture Department hopes to teach participants how to properly care for big cats. [Source: Emily Gersema, Associated Press, November 23, 2003]

No government agency tracks the number of large exotic cats in the United States. The Agriculture “department has no authority to regulate them. It only oversees the animals when they are in the care of licensed dealers and breeders, or in zoos, circuses and shows. The agency believes that only qualified, trained professionals should keep tigers, cougars and other large felines because of their threat to people. Nineteen states have banned ownership of big cats, according to the Humane Society of the United States, an animal welfare group. Other states require special permits and some counties have imposed local bans. Congress this year passed a measure restricting the movement of exotic animals, meaning they cannot be shipped from state to state. [Ibid]

“Many exotic cats end up in sanctuaries because pet owners cannot afford them or do not know how to care for them. Sandy Smith operates a nonprofit shelter called Wesa-A-Geh-Ya, which means "Cat Lady" in her native Cherokee language. The 17-acre sanctuary in Warrenton, Mo., is home to lions, tigers, cougars, leopards, Arctic wolves and foxes. She has 63 animals. "These animals need constant care," said Smith, who lives there with her husband in a 14-by-70 foot trailer. They spend roughly $5,000 a month per animal. Costs include meat, vitamins, maintenance of the cages and buildings, and veterinary care. The cats eat a total of eight cows per week during the winter. "We are constantly behind on our personal bills so that my animals can have a home and so that we can take care of them," she said. "We don't take vacations. We're here seven days a week. This is just our life. I guard it very highly." Smith has always been fascinated with big cats. "Tigers will take your spirit, and lions steal your heart," she said. But, she added, "These are not pets."

Captive Tigers in China

Although China's wild tiger population is tiny, thousands of the animals are bred in captivity each year. Forestry bureaus are responsible for conservation and receive the bulk of funds related to this end. China's tiger farmers, who have bred more than 5,000 animals, are pushing for a relaxation of the ban on the trade of tiger parts in the hope of selling bones and penises for traditional medicine.

In February 2012, AFP reported: “China says it has nearly 6,000 endangered tigers in captivity, but just 50 to 60 living in the wild in its northeast. In the 1980s, China set up tiger farms to try to preserve the big cats, intending to release some into the wild. But the farms have come under the international spotlight, with some conservation groups saying they use the cats for their body parts, while media reports have exposed poor conditions at zoos and animal parks. [Source: AFP, February 7, 2012 ]

Pictures of tourists sitting on top of a strapped-down cub at a "tiger park" in Jilin province went viral on Chinese social networking in January 2014. The park promptly terminated its contract with an "on-site animal circus" which took responsibility for the incident, Chinese media reported.

Zoos Give Up Their Tigers

Reporting from Montevideo, Uruguay, Leonardo Haberkorn of Associated Press wrote: "Hatch," a 10-year-old male Bengal tiger, has lived in a 20-by-16-foot (6-by-5 meter) cage with cement walls and nothing green in sight since he was traded to the Villa Dolores Zoo after spending his first three years in a circus. A similarly dismal cage next door is home to an unnamed female tiger. A poster says tigers "love water" and "bathe on hot days, swimming across rivers and lakes." But these cats don't even have a paddling pool. Now, Montevideo's municipal zoo is giving up its two tigers, bending to pressure from animal rights protesters and a lack of funds to create a healthier environment for them. They will be sent to a sanctuary in the United States. [Source: Leonardo Haberkorn, Associated Press, September 13, 2013]

The compact urban zoo has no room to grow, and a plan Tabares drafted to create a more-welcoming tiger habitat added up to $600,000, too high for the city to support. The city spends about $1,000 per month just to feed the tigers, but the social pressure was a more important factor than the money, authorities said. The zoo has been the target of animal righst activists who have broken into the zoo to set animals free.

Montevideo finally found a solution when it met with Animals Without Homes, an Uruguayan organization that works with zoos and circuses to move unwanted animals into better environments. The organization is currently in talks with the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Texas and the National Tiger Sanctuary in Missouri. The plan is to transfer the animals without compensation or cost to the city, said the organization's spokesman, Eduardo Etcheverry.

"I would like it if zoos did not exist, but they exist and have many animals that cannot be introduced back into nature. We try to help these animals have the best quality of life," said Etcheverry. "The administration of Montevideo has recognized, and we thank them for it, that they do not possess the means to have the tigers in their charge." Those working on Hatch's transfer hope he'll be able to spend the second half of his life walking through grass, and perhaps even taking a dip in a pond.

Tiger That Nearly Killed Its Handler Gets to Stay at Australia Zoo

In November 2013, The Australian reported: “A tiger that bit its handler wasn't acting out of aggression and won't be removed from an Australia Zoo. The tiger was playing in front of an audience, when it became over excited and bit trainer of nine years Dave Styles, who had raised it since it was a cub. The beast raised itself on two legs and dragged Mr Styles into the pool just after the daily show at the Sunshine Coast zoo, onlookers say. [Source: The Australian, November 27, 2013]

While in the water, Mr Styles was bitten on the neck and shoulder with puncture wounds near vital blood vessels. Medics were helicoptered in and Mr Styles, 30, was flown to the Royal Brisbane Hospital in a stable condition. English backpacker Dan Bass saw the horror unfold. "Shock, absolute shock, screaming," Mr Bass told ABC radio. "The keepers did really well to keep them away from the glass."

Despite the incident, the tiger will remain at the zoo. "It wasn't an act of aggression," Australia Zoo director Wes Mennon told ABC radio. "It wasn't a tiger attacking someone. "It's just normal part of the daily routine of the tigers and unfortunately we had a mishap." Australia Zoo, owned by the late Steve Irwin's family, and workplace health and safety are investigating.

The zoo keeps three Bengal and eight Sumatran tigers, but it won't say what animal was responsible. Visitors can have their photos taken with the tigers each day, but the tourist attraction comes with a warning: "Please remember big cats are predatory animals and are quite capable of exercising their natural instincts". Animal rights group PETA says the zoo should be penalised for allowing employees to risk their lives. "If his employer had followed standard industry practice and required that protective barriers always be kept between potentially dangerous animals and humans ... the trainer would never have been attacked," PETA said in a statement.

Thailand's Tiger Temple

The Tiger Temple in Kanchanaburi (about 80 kilometers west from Bangkok) is one of the few places in the world where visitors are allowed to pet and pose for pictures with the tigers. Fast becoming one of Thailand's most popular tourist attractions, the sanctuary was set up for for orphaned tigers by Buddhist monks in 1999 when the first female cub was brought to Wat Pa Luangta Bua Yannasampanno, a Buddhist sanctuary, and was cared for by the monks. [Source: Kerry Mcqueeney, Daily Mail, April 24, 2012 *]

Kerry Mcqueeney wrote in the Daily Mail: “For a basic entrance fee - or 'donation' - of 1,000 baht (about £20), visitors get a tour of the site and the chance to enter the sanctuary's Tiger Canyon, a quarry with a rocky pool at one end containing a dozen or so sleeping tigers chained to the ground. During a small half-hour window, tourists have the option of being escorted around the quarry with two volunteers so they can pet each tiger while they sleep. One volunteer keeps an eye on the tiger while the other takes charge of tourist's camera and snaps away as they touch the big cats. For an extra fee, visitors can have their picture taken with the largest tiger's head resting in their lap. And for more money, they can have a front row seat - in a cage near the water front - to watch the cats playing in the pool. *

“Despite its status as a sanctuary, the Tiger Temple has been dogged by controversy as it has grown as a tourist attraction. Many online forums discussing the temple contain fierce debate of the ethical issues surrounding such a tourist attraction. The temple has been forced to strenuously deny accusations that its big cat residents are sedated to allow tourists to have their pictures taken with them. They say the reason the carnivores are so docile is because they have been hand-reared by the monks from an early age, which means their aggressive behaviour has been controlled and they do not see human contact as a threat. However, many remain suspicious over why the cats are so calm and sleepy during the visiting. *

“Visitors to the sanctuary are made to sign a disclaimer before they are allowed to enter - to ensure the temple does not get sued in case someone is attacked by a tiger - and signs at the gate explain why the tigers are so used to human contact. Tourists are also advised to steer clear of dressing in brightly-coloured clothes to avoid getting the tigers excited. Nevertheless, for the most part, tourists who visit the Tiger Temple come away from it with a unique experience - a chance to get up close with the majestic big cats. *

A review on Lonely Planet's website reads: 'Kanchanaburi’s most expensive tourist attraction is also its most controversial. 'This monastery affords incredible photo opportunities for visitors to get up close and personal with the big cats. 'Some of the temple’s 30 tigers pose for pictures in a canyon while visitors are shepherded in and out in quick succession.'

Fad of Taking Photos with Tiger Cubs Brings Danger Later

Kevin Giles wrote in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune: Those cute tiger cubs that pose with smiling children for photos at shopping malls and county fairs across the country are all the rage, but the cubs lose their value when they grow big enough to hurt somebody.Then they become discards, sometimes sold for as little as $200 at garage sales and truck stops to make room for new cubs that bring $25 a pop in front of the camera. "You have this continuing influx of tigers that have no place to go," said Tom Solin, a private investigator of wildcat injuries and deaths, who thinks the popular and lucrative photo fad explains the source of so many tigers. [Source: Kevin Giles, Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune, April 23, 2006]

"A lot of people in Minnesota ask, “Why do these people have to have these exotic animals anyway?" said Lakeville Police Chief Steve Strachan. He sponsored the 2004 state law when he was a member of the Minnesota House. "We’ve got a couple of instances where they’ve killed and crippled people right here in our state."

As attacks continue, cities and counties react with ordinances that in most cases ban wildcats altogether. Woodbury last week joined at least 78 other Minnesota cities forbidding such animals unless traveling with circuses.” One owner had a USDA license permitted her to show animals in public places. Her cousin, Kendra Lojio, said she watched Gamble at renaissance festivals in Georgia, where Gamble "captivated the audiences, stressing how important it was to preserve their animals and appreciate their role in the wild."

However, the mother of a girl injured five years ago in a tiger attack at Bearcat Hollow in Racine, Minn., said that such appearances fool people. "There is no legitimate market for these animals," said Mary Hartman of Rochester, who hired Solin to investigate her daughter’s case, "so they take them to the mall to create the illusion that you’re getting a piece of the wild."

Tigers as Pets

By one estimate there around 7,000 pet tigers in the United States---roughly equal to the number of tigers living in the wild. Texas has the largest tiger population outside India. As of 2001, there were at least 2,370 tigers in Texas compared to around 3,000 in India.

In some states in the United States you don’t need a license to own a tiger, which can be purchased over the Internet for as little as a few hundred dollars. Many of them are kept in backyards. In Texas you can sometimes see them riding around in the back of pick up trucks. One man, “Jungle” Jay Riggs, a former handler of police dogs, has 40 of them and took care of Mike Tyson’s four tigers while he was waiting for a new house to be built. Some drug dealers keep them as “guard cats.”

White tigers are particularly sought after by tiger pet owners. None are known to exist in the wild but 300 or so are kept in captivity. A prime, blue-eyed specimen goes for around $25,000. In August 2004, a blue-eyed white stripeless tiger was born in Spain as a result of a genetic mutation. There are only about 20 such animals in the world. Its parents were normal Bengal tigers.

Many pet tigers were purchased as cute cuddly cubs and then were abandoned when they became unmanageable adults. Some shelters in Texas have so many tigers they can’t take any more. Tigers are expensive to take care. Building a pen and cage to keep them in can cost $10,000 or more. Fresh meat for a couple animals can cost more than $100 a week. Medical care is expensive and hard to find.

Escaped Tigers

In June 2004, a declawed tiger owned by an actor who used to play Tarzan in the 1960s and 70s escaped from a compound in Florida. Wildlife officials shot and killed it. In Hampshire, England in 2011, police were called in to capture a white tiger sitting motionless in a field only to find out when they got to the field---heavily armed, with a helicopter hoovering overhead and a team with tranquilizer guns ready---that the tiger was a life-size toy. Before the discovery was made golf courses were cleared and children playing sports were told to seek refuge inside. The true nature of the beast was found out by police in the helicopter. After their infrared sensors picked up no heat from the tiger they went in for a closer look and wind from the helicopter’s rotors caused the “tiger” too topple over.

In July 2004, a tiger escaped from a circus it Queens. Its presence on a highway led to a multi car crash but no injuries. It was lured back into its cage by its handler. AP reported: “After escaping from the circus, a white tiger alarmed picnickers and motorists Saturday on what for him apparently was a calm, half-mile stroll through an unfamiliar urban jungle. The animal, named Apollo, was safely recaptured in the Queens section of the city -- but not before the sight of him on the Jackie Robinson Parkway caused a multi-car accident. Four adults and one child suffered minor injuries. When the tiger lay down on a nearby street, six police officers with guns drawn created a perimeter around it, Capt. John Durkin said. The tiger's trainer arrived and coaxed it back into his cage. "They did some type of signal, and the tiger jumped into the cage," Durkin said. "The tiger was taken into custody without incident." [Source: Michael Weissenstein, Associated Press, August 1, 2004]

“The 7-year-old, 450-pound tiger is part of the Cole Bros. Circus that was performing in Forest Park. The cat was being transferred from a small cage to a larger one when the two enclosures separated, creating an opening big enough for him to get out, police and parks officials said. Apollo calmly prowled through a section of the park, walking past Mary Mason and other people at a church picnic. "We were all in shock," Mason said. "Here we are, out on a quiet Saturday afternoon picnic and all of a sudden, a tiger is walking past like he was on a quiet afternoon stroll." [Ibid]

“Durkin said police followed the animal for about a half-mile from the park to a residential street near the Jackie Robinson Parkway. The tiger had apparently strolled through some streets and stepped on to the parkway before settling in on the street where the police found him, police said. Durkin said authorities were investigating whether the Florida-based circus would be charged with anything. Circus officials declined to comment on the incident. It's not the only time police have had to deal with a tiger in the city. [Ibid]

Lions, a Tiger, Bears and Wolves Freed in Ohio

In October 2011, Greg Bishop and Timothy Williams wrote in the New York Times: “The woman’s voice sounded a little annoyed. “There’s a bear and a lion out,” she told the 911 operator on Tuesday. “Right up behind us.” Come again” the operator said. “Yeah,” the caller replied. “They’re chasing Terry’s horses.” Both the woman and the operator seemed surprisingly calm considering that it was not merely a bear and a lion but 56 exotic creatures---a fierce menagerie that included wolves, monkeys and 18 Bengal tigers, an endangered species whose numbers total less than 3,000 in the wild---that had fled their cages on a 73-acre private reserve. Friends described the couple who ran it as animal lovers, but they also had a history of run-ins with the authorities. [Source: Greg Bishop and Timothy Williams, New York Times, October 19, 2011]

By late Wednesday, a day after the hunt began, the authorities in this central Ohio city of 25,000 said they had killed or captured all but one of the animals, a monkey. It had not been seen all day, and officials believed that it might have been killed by one of the other animals, said Tom Stalf, assistant director of operations at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. The creatures had been freed on the reserve, a few miles west of downtown Zanesville, after one of the owners apparently cut open their wire cages or opened the doors and then fatally shot himself, the authorities said.

The animals’ release set off a day of tense watches, frantic searches and a news media frenzy in the rain-soaked hills along Interstate 70 an hour’s drive east of Columbus. And while there were multiple sightings of wild animals on farmland in and around Zanesville, there were no reports of any people being attacked.

Although many details remained unclear, the authorities described a chaotic, bloody scene on Tuesday after deputies first responded to two 911 calls about Mr. Thompson’s animals running free---not an unusual occurrence. But when deputies arrived about 5:30 p.m. , they were confronted by several of the animals. Sheriff Lutz said that with night falling he had little choice but to give his deputies permission to shoot. They do not normally carry tranquilizer darts, he said.

During the height of the confusion on Tuesday night, Sheriff Lutz said, it was unclear how many animals had been killed. “When they’re shooting animals in all directions, it’s hard to keep track,” he said. He told reporters that his officers were unprepared to deal with large, frightened animals. “I had deputies that had to shoot with sidearms,” Sheriff Lutz said. “These are 300-pound Bengal tigers that we had to put down.” Once the extent of the danger to his deputies became apparent, he said, deputies were given high-powered rifles and stationed in the beds of pickup trucks, where they shot the animals as they cornered them.

Hunting Down the Lions, a Tiger, Bears and Wolves Freed in Ohio

In October 2011, Greg Bishop and Timothy Williams wrote in the New York Times: “The creatures were eventually hunted down and killed by Muskingum County sheriff’s deputies and other law enforcement officials---at first with handguns, and later with assault rifles---as the animals wandered the property or ventured out of nearby woods. At least 49 had been killed by Wednesday afternoon, most of them within 500 yards of their pens, including 17 lions and at least one animal described as a big cat that was hit by a car as it tried to cross a street. It was later euthanized by the authorities. Six other animals---three leopards, a grizzly bear and two monkeys---were shot with tranquilizer darts and sent to the Columbus Zoo, where they were placed under quarantine. And various species of monkeys, found alive in cages inside the Thompson house, were also spared. [Source: Greg Bishop and Timothy Williams, New York Times, October 19, 2011]

Animal rights advocates criticized the Muskingum County Sheriff’s Department for killing so many of the animals, but Sheriff Matt Lutz took pains on Wednesday to illustrate the danger of using nonlethal force in such circumstances. He said that a veterinarian had tried to shoot a fleeing Bengal tiger with a tranquilizer dart, but that it either missed or only enraged the 300-pound animal. “It just went crazy,” Sheriff Lutz said. “We had to put it down.” The sheriff described some of the animals that had been killed as “mature, very big, aggressive” with “high potential” for being dangerous to humans. “We could not have animals running loose in this county,” he said. “We could not have that.”

The Sheriff’s Department shut down all roads leading to Mr. Thompson’s sprawling farm, where most of the animals were kept in pens and cages at the top of a hill, although some were also in the garage and in the house. Neighbors gathered at the blockade, more excited than frightened about the unusual proceedings in their normally quiet town, perhaps best known as the birthplace of the Western writer Zane Grey. Schools were closed for the day out of fear that children might be attacked.

Hanna of the Columbus Zoo defended the sheriff’s actions. “What was he supposed to do?” he asked. To the sheriff, though, the pressure of the previous 24 hours was evident. “It’s just terrible,” he said. “These killings were senseless. It was nonsense. It was crazy.”

Owner of the Farm with the Lions, a Tiger, Bears and Wolves

In October 2011, Greg Bishop and Timothy Williams wrote in the New York Times: “Terry Thompson, 62, who officials said let the animals out, had assembled the exotic collection, creature by creature, with his wife, largely out of their love of wild animals, friends said. But there had been trouble in their lives: Mr. Thompson was released from a federal prison three weeks ago after a serving a year for possessing illegal firearms, and friends said he and his wife were estranged. [Source: Greg Bishop and Timothy Williams, New York Times, October 19, 2011]

Mr. Thompson’s wife, Marian, arrived at the property on Wednesday and pleaded with officials not to kill her animals. Jack Hanna, the director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo, was helping the authorities at the scene and said that Ms. Thompson had begged them, “Please don’t take my babies,” as they tracked down the wild creatures.

Mr. Thompson, who had run afoul of the law dozens of times over questions of whether his animals were being fed regularly and kept in sanitary conditions, pleaded guilty to federal charges in April 2010 of possessing eight illegal firearms---five automatic weapons and three short-barreled guns whose serial numbers had been filed off, according to court documents.

He spent a year and a day in prison, said Fred Alverson, a spokesman for the United States attorney’s office in Columbus. (It was unclear who took care of the animals while Mr. Thompson was imprisoned.) When he was arrested, federal agents confiscated more than 100 firearms from the property, and they believed he had been illegally selling the weapons, according to documents filed in federal court in Columbus.The Thompsons also had liens of about $56,000 for back taxes and penalties from the Internal Revenue Service, records showed.

Local law enforcement officials said they repeatedly visited the Thompson farm after receiving complaints, but could do little more than make sure that Mr. Thompson had the proper permits for keeping the animals. He did. “We’ve handled numerous complaints, numerous inspections,” Sheriff Lutz said. “This has been a huge problem for us.” Dave Sacks, a spokesman for the United States Department of Agriculture, said that under the federal Animal Welfare Act, the agency monitors exotic animal owners only if they exhibit the animals to the public for compensation.”The rub in Ohio is that U.S.D.A. does not regulate that sanctuary because Mr. Thompson does not exhibit his animals to the public for compensation,” Mr. Sacks said.

Will Travers, the chief executive of Born Free USA, a nonprofit advocacy group that supports wild animals and opposes the exotic pet trade, said that Ohio is one of only eight states that do not regulate exotic animals. It did briefly after a bear mauling, but Gov. John Kasich allowed the ban to expire. “Ohio has a particularly bad record when it comes to exotics,” Mr. Travers said.

During the night, deputies found Mr. Thompson’s body in the driveway of the house with a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The authorities and friends of Mr. Thompson said most of the animals had been purchased legally at local auctions. One friend, Quentin Krouskoupf, 38, said that at one point Mr. Thompson had owned two lions that had belonged to the boxer Mike Tyson.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: National Geographic, Natural History magazine, Smithsonian magazine, Wikipedia, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, The Guardian, Top Secret Animal Attack Files website, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, The Economist, BBC, and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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