About Advertise
Get em Tiger

Get em Tiger

by Brendon Bosworth / 20.01.2010

Last week a Canadian man, Norman Buwalda, was killed by his pet tiger.
The press hasn’t delved into the gory minutia, but it’s likely the 295-kilogram beast chewed through his jugular or ripped off his head. A terrible way to go, but I can’t feel sorry for him. According to the WWF, less than a century ago tigers prowled the forests of eastern Turkey and the Caspian region of Western Asia; their habitat stretched across to the Indian sub-continent, China, and Indochina, south to Indonesia, and north to the Korean Peninsula and the Russian Far East. Nowadays, with three of the nine subspecies already extinct and widespread destruction of their natural environ caused by humans, as well as poaching taking its toll, the largest members of the cat family find themselves with a shrinking domicile. Tigers can be found in parts of the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia, Sumatra, and the Russian Far East, with a few still surviving in China and possibly a few in North Korea.

Nowhere does the WWF mention tigers enjoying the climes of Shedden, a Canadian hamlet revered as the ‘Rhubarb Capital of Ontario’, and its rural surrounds. To be fair, a Siberian tiger might get along fabulously in the snow, but that’s beside the point. Taking a wild animal, especially one that is endangered and requires space to hunt and live out its natural life, from its indigenous surrounds and keeping it locked up in a barn-loft pen is cruel, unfair and tantamount to slavery. Buwalda, whose other captives included two lions (ever heard of those in Canada?), another tiger and a cougar, was the chairman of the Canadian Exotic Animal Owner’s Association which, as stated on their website, ‘is against the capture of wild animals being kept in captivity unless the animal is incapable of surviving the wild.’

So Mr Buwalda was protecting his detainees from the dangers of the jungle? Truly, I’d like to believe he was. Perhaps his pets were schizophrenic, bulimic, anorexic or manic depressive? Only too glad to retreat to this far-away garden where the rigours of modern jungle life were nothing but an occasional night terror that could be quelled by a handful of sleeping pills. But I can’t believe it. I think people who keep wild animals locked up do so for their own selfish reasons. I think they like using the ‘I’ve got a tiger at home’ line as a conversation starter. I think they enjoy ushering gawking admirers around their mini zoos and showing off their trophies. What I think they love most is the concomitant sense of power: having the magnificent creatures rattling the bars, eagerly waiting on them to dish out the next slab of meat or take them out for exercise, invokes something of a god complex. The mighty provider deigns when comfort and freedom will be afforded. That’s the ultimate kick.

when I get out of here I'm going to kill you

when I get out of here I'm going to kill you

It happens on a smaller scale with domestic pets, run of the mill beings: dogs, cats, hamsters, parrots, even the lowly goldfish. Some people love to feel needed and somehow seem to have internalized a notion that they have the right to ‘own’ other creatures and make them dependent. But nature comes out fighting, often unexpectedly, a reminder that wild animals are exactly that, wild. They don’t want to hang out, listen to humans talking crap, or play fetch. They prefer being left to their own devices. Buwalda may have done well to heed the lessons of other unfortunates. Last year, Charla Nash had most of her face ripped off by her neighbour’s rabid pet chimp, Travis. She was left sans eyelids, mouth and nose, with all her fingers gnawed off. The fourteen year-old primate, who was suffering from Lyme disease, was keyed up on anti-anxiety drug Xanax at the time and had escaped from his cage. Nash was trying to help her neighbour and friend, Sandra Herold, get the ape back into her house. Herold ended up stabbing the deranged ape in the back with a kitchen knife; the police finished him off with a bullet. Then there was terminal crocodile hunter Steve Irwin. I always wondered how someone touting himself as a conservationist could go around wrestling crocs and generally irritating and harassing any form of wildlife that made for good television. In the end, it wasn’t the teeth of a reptile that got him, but a stingray barb to the chest. Game over.

The all-time icon of self-engineered death by wild animal has to be the ‘grizzly man’, Timothy Treadwell. The hapless bear enthusiast spent thirteen summers camped out in Katmai National Park, Alaska, observing and filming the resident grizzlies, often attempting to touch them. He didn’t see anything wrong with it and allegedly claimed he was using his films to raise public awareness about the plight of the powerful animals, notably appearing on The Late Show with David Letterman to promote his book, Among Grizzlies: Living with Wild Bears in Alaska. Turns out the bears didn’t appreciate his concerns: in 2003 he and his girlfriend, Amie Huguenard, were ravaged and killed by a bear in their campsite. Treadwell’s disfigured body was found with his head connected to a small piece of spine; his right arm and hand lying nearby with a wristwatch still attached. Huguenard was found badly chewed and buried in the ground. Two bears, one discovered to have human remains in its stomach, were later shot and killed by park rangers. Four unnecessary deaths due to one man’s uninvited interventions into the natural order

As far as lessons go, Buwalda ignored his warning. The press reports that in 2004 a ten-year-old boy, who visited Buwalda’s property to photograph his animals for a school project, was mauled by a Siberian tiger that was led out on a leash. He landed up in hospital. Reportedly, neighbours had been rallying for years to have the creatures removed. A bylaw was passed that banned anyone in the Southwold Township from owning exotic animals, but this was fought by Buwalda and his legal team and overturned by a judge after a two-year court battle.

Buwalda didn’t heed the harbingers but hopefully others will. More importantly, maybe people will think twice about the ethics of keeping wild animals as domestic chattel. There is a place for keeping wild animals in captivity: when they are being rehabilitated and prepared to go back into the wild or into national parks and protected areas. Conservationists around the world are doing a good job at that. These beasts are not pets, play things or friends. Humans have done enough to destroy their livelihoods, decimate their numbers and use them for their own greedy desires. The least we can do is leave them in peace and give them the respect they deserve.

27   0
  1. hbomb011 says:

    Karma’s a bitch.

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  2. more than just pets says:

    To be fair, who can begrudge the great fondness that many people have for all kinds of animals? I like animals very, very much – especially with potatoes and two servings of vegetables.

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  3. tara says:

    eventually all devotees eat their gods.

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  4. Kurt says:

    “self-engineered death by wild animal” I love it.

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  5. David Steynberg says:

    Brendon I applaud you for your stance on this sometimes controversial subject. Last week I was at Chimp Eden (you may know the name from the programme on Animal Planet), which forms part of the Jane Goodall Institute. All but one of the chimps there are orphans victimised directly by the bushmeat trade in cental Africa (most at the sanctuary are from Angola). All were placed in the pet trade after their mothers were slaughtered by poachers (many still hanging on to their mothers’ dead bodies because their mothers’ bodies were still warm). They were either used as curio items for photographers, night club owners (who used them for entertainment by teaching the chimps to smoke, drink and take drugs) or ended up in travelling circuses. The guys at Chimp Eden do not mingle directly with the chimps who have finally been allowed to be chimps among chimps, and not fucking humans, as best can be provided in a man-made setting.
    I spoke at length with the sanctuary manager, an awesome individual named Phillip, who told me horror stories from experiences and questions received from tourists who visit the sanctuary. A one-hour tour takes you on a tour of three of the makeshift troops, explaining in detail why the chimps are there and hopefully educating people to the plight of the remaining 80 000 to 100 000 chimps left in the wild (apparently, there were one million 20 years ago).
    He told me that after one of these talks, one member of the tour group asked him if there was chimp meat on the menu at the restaurant! And this was not a joke – how could it have been?
    The human race has become perverse and disgusting. There are restaurants in Africa that serve all kinds of endangered species because people have devolved so far down the ladder that they see this “priviledge” as a way of demonstrating their wealth, power and possibly lack of moral fibre.
    After observing the chimps at the sanctuary in the morning before heading out, a thought entered my head. Is it not so ironic that the cuteness and likeness of a baby chimp may just be that particular animal’s biggest disadvantage?
    Not too many people keep anteaters, but how many keep exotic pets like monkeys and chimps because they “are their children”? I wish people would wake up and understand that by condoning their friends, and indeed their own society, to keep all manner of wild, exotic and endangered animals, they too are letting down nature at large.
    Human beings need to grow responsible opinions and then act on them, responsibly.

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  6. Pauly says:

    If only the poor creature (the tiger) could read your projections and musings, hed have a throaty laugh

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  7. Chrisco says:

    Cheers Brendon – I couldn’t agree more. Whenever I get into conversations with people about this kind of stuff, someone inevitably gets offended because the topic eventually leads to pets of all sorts.

    I honestly think that besides dogs and the domestic cat, no one should be keeping animals as pets. People all over the world label themselves as ‘animal lovers’ and think that means they can own an animal of some sort. Y’know, so they can hug it and squeeze it and feed it treats and generally brighten their lives by watching it try get out it’s cage or chew on furniture because it’s so darned cute. Then they go to the office for at least a third of every day leaving their pet alone and constricted.

    How often have I heard people with a bloody menagerie of animals comment on people without pets, musing: “Well, they’re just not animal lovers!”
    At almost every level, from cockatiel to Bengal tiger, people ACTUALLY keep pets because they like owning them; they love looking at them and superimposing human qualities on a non-human life form. Keeping animals doesn’t automatically make you an animal lover – it often just makes you selfish. Loving animals means knowing when to leave them to their own devices, in their own habitat. I don’t own any pets because as cute as a puppy or a kitten or a bloody hedgehog may be to look at, I work all day – I don’t have the space to allow them freedom and privacy and happiness.

    I love animals too much to try ‘own’ one.

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  8. Angela says:

    Points taken but I am hardly going to take my 3 rescued dogs (that some compassionless sub-human dumped to fend for themselves) and liberate them among their wild brethren in Kruger Park so they can take their rightful place in the foodchain as easy lunch. Although I can name a few humans richly deserving of some manner of evolutionary retribution. Meanwhile I hope I tread on the correct side of the line between ‘compassion’ and ‘God-complex’. A tough call when there is really no “natural order” anymore, thanks to human destruction of habitats. If it were not for continued human “interference”, we would even not even have the puny remaining shrinking islands of micro-managed biodiversity that still exist. In the end, you have to appreciate this Tiger incident for what it is – a well-earned kick in the balls from Mother Nature.

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  9. Woooof says:

    i’ve got a plant in captivity … yes outside it’s natural habitat! Rock and Roll mofos living on the edge. i’ll show nature whos boss!

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  10. David Steynberg says:

    Wow!!! That’s all I can say. Talk about the point being missed. Friends, don’t let stupid friends have children.

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  11. Graeme Feltham says:

    It’s an evolutionary thing. Human fools who “play” with those who would consider them food or just something akin to a rag doll should be eliminated. Thankfully they’ve taekn it upon themselves, precluding them from causing kak in other more sensible and more outrageous human endeavours. Their behaviour is akin to jumping out of a plane without a parachute. Sometimes landing their death bodies on another to increase their destruction. Life for our species should be an adventure – like doing things like jumping out of a plane WITH a parachute. All else is sophistry and illusion and should be committed to the flames.

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  12. Married to an animal lover says:

    I think you’re forgetting one important side of this. Or maybe you’re not forgetting, but it needs to be said.

    Some people have a deep love for animals, and want them around for the same reasons that they like to surround themselves with family or friends. Often instead of. But this isn’t what you’re leaving out of your analysis of human relationships with animals. What you’re omitting is the that animals themselves forge deep connections with people too. You’re forgetting about mutual companionship.

    I don’t deny that certain people do it for the novely factor, like having a boa constrictor or a wolf in the house. but if one acknowledges that having cats or dogs around the house is okay, since they definitely don’t want to be in the wild (a meander around townships in the transkei should drive this point home to most), then why not horses or frikken meerkats even?

    With ever scarcer resources i.t.o. land and food, we’re going to encroach ever more on animal territory and i wonder if the only way that certain species will survive is if a broader variety of them are adopted into loving households. Why should everyone who wants to surround themselves with animal(s) have to ‘adopt’ either a dog or a cat?

    I don’t share angela’s burden to take on the burden of bringing home all sorts of dogs or cats just because other people mistreated or abandoned them, but I think it’s great for dogs and cats that people do. if i want to allow my kids (of which one of two, in particular, is a great animal lover) to shower a vervet monkey, for example, with love and attention that was rescued somewhere or other and make space for it to live with us, why shouldn’t i?

    Different animals each demonstrate a different flavour of animal behaviour and awareness, which i believe can teach us so much about human nature, and nature itself. I would even go so far as to say that if more people spent more intimate time with animals that they have a deep interest in, that nature would be better off.

    Disclaimer: I had a friend who grew up with a meerkat, and another that grew up with a vervet monkey. both animals lived rich, happy lives, and these friends of mine experienced a deep sense of loss when they died and mourned for them as they would a friend. I did the same when my dog died.

    Brendan, I share your anger at people’s lack of disrespect for animals, but the bigger picture is richer than that.

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0

  13. Anonymous says:

    Buwalda had this coming to him…I know more about this guy than anyone can else can claim…let’s just say, “I’m glad the tiger was bigger than Buwalda’s ego!”

    Thumb up0   Thumb down 0