Rest in peace, Tatiana
I have no animosity, for once, toward the police in this matter. They respond to a call of a person killed and more injured and at least one tiger on the loose, a dire threat roaming in a place where there are small children around: of course they shot Tatiana. I hope it was a clean shot. I’m not second-guessing their actions any further than that.
Still, the whole thing is an obscenity. It should never have happened.
I am not an absolutist on the subject of zoos, and I suspect I never will be on a planet where the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum exists. The Desert Museum’s explicitly ecological outlook makes it the only zoo I’ve seen where the old excuse “we exist to teach the public about the animals we keep” doesn’t ring completely hollow. There they have somewhat more naturalistic settings for their big cats, and yet the enclosures there are still about a thousandth of a percent the size of a desert cat’s normal territory. It is still imprisonment. It’s just mitigated better than at most such prisons.
But you don’t have to be an absolutist to abhor the San Francisco Zoo. Tatiana herself was the center of another incident just a year ago in which she mangled a zoo worker’s arm: cage design was found to be the problem. The outdoor enclosures are ludicrously insufficient for big cats. The zoo has a bad record in keeping large animals of any type. Check out the incomplete incident report at the end of this article, for instance. There’s at least one shameful incident missing from the list, in which visitors were able to steal a koala from the zoo without anyone noticing.
As I imagine many of the people reading this morning’s news story did, I felt rage for a moment at the injured zoo visitors, who it seems may have brought on the attack by taunting Tatiana. It may well be that the rage was uninformed and the article unfair to the victims. But if the speculation turns out to be justified, feeding the survivors to the other cats, though it might serve as a deterrent to such taunting in the future, would be beside the point.
[Update: it looks as though Carlos Sousa may have died trying to distract Tatiana from attacking his friends. If this is true, add another innocent life to the cost of the taunting.]
There will always be testosterone-driven idiots in the world. A zoo that does not operate with them in mind is not caring painstakingly enough for its animal charges.
The zoo has its devoted fans, and I assume many of its staff members truly want what’s best for the animals. How could they not? But the zoo itself is explicitly designed for gawking rather than education, for the entertainment of the visitors rather than the emotional health of its animals.
It’s time to shut it down, and to find sanctuaries where the animals can live out the rest of their lives in a less circumscribed and truncated fashion.
And in the meantime there is one less tiger in the world, killed for acting like a tiger.
Photographer Susan L. Pettitt, who would almost certainly find much to argue with in this post and should not be held responsible for anything I say here, took some beautiful photos of Tatiana. What a gorgeous, gorgeous girl she was. The world is emptier without her.
Update: More photos of Tatiana.