Wednesday, October 08, 2003

Wild Animals are Just That

I have a friend who is a forensic pathologist. I once asked him what was the worst thing he had ever seen in an autopsy. He has of course seen victims of murder, car accidents, and fires. He told me about a man who was drunk, high, insane or all of the above when he climbed into a tiger cage at a zoo. That body was the worst he had seen.

Listen up people. Wild animals are called wild for a reason. They can and will kill you. Period. End of story.

This past weekend I turned on my television to learn that one Antoine Yates, resident of a Harlem housing project, was keeping a tiger in his apartment. Mr. Yates made the mistake of getting between the hungry tiger and a kitten. Of course he was bitten and had to go to the hospital. The friend he asked to feed the tiger had a modicum of common sense and reported the predator to authorities. I then heard that Roy Horn, of Siegfried and Roy, was attacked by a tiger during a performance of their show in Las Vegas. As if that were not enough, today I read that Timothy Treadwell, a self-taught expert on Alaskan grizzly bears, was killed by one of the animals he studied.

I wondered why someone would keep a tiger in an apartment. Anyone interested in studying wild animals can do so easily in New York City. We have five zoos, one for each borough. Those who are fascinated by animals should visit, volunteer, or take a class at one of these facilities.

My questions were better left unanswered. Mr. Yates described the tiger, Ming, as his only friend. It is beginning to make sense. Maladjusted people without social skills keep 400 hundred pound predators in their apartments. Now I get it.

As for Mr. Horn I suppose he thought that he new his tiger, Montacore. He reportedly pleaded in the hospital, "Don't kill the cat."

Mr. Treadwell had once experienced a drug overdose and then was nearly attacked by a bear and subsequently concluded that studying bears was his mission in life. He even described them as "party animals" on the David Letterman show. I think Betty Ford would have been a better idea for him. Even domesticated animals can maim and kill. Let's not make wild animals our means of self-discovery.

Yesterday I saw a television interview with a representative of New York's Animal Care and Control office. He reported that he and his colleagues rescue between 7,000 and 8,000 exotic animals every year. It seems that selfishnessness, disregard for animal needs, disregard for the safety of others and good old fashioned foolishness are rampant in our fair city. Apparently many people buy a crocodilian, Yates had one of those too, and then panic when it grows to 6, 7 or 8 feet in length.

A friend of mine says that there is an inate human and spiritual need to learn about nature, but the lack of spiritual grounding and intellectual stimulation in our society inspires people to keep wild animals in their homes instead of studying them in a proper setting. As usual the story is bigger than we think. It is easy to laugh at someone who says he misses the tiger that seriously injured him. It is not so easy to think about why there are 7,000 other people like him in the same city.

The Freedom Rider does not like to tell her age, but I will do so by recalling a commercial from the 70s with the punch line "It's not nice to fool mother nature." If mother nature gives a creature sharp teeth and claws to match it should be avoided by humans. If you want friends talk to people. If you find it hard to make friends tell your troubles to a therapist, preacher, or bartender. But whatever you do keep carnivores out of apartments.