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Cry Of The Tiger: Ownership of Exotic Animals in the U.S.

The ownership of dangerous exotic animals is out of control in the US.

     Good morning and greetings, wildlife lovers. Last week was a horrific one on the wild animal front, as 49 animals that had been set free from their cages in a compound in Zanesville, Ohio had be slaughtered to protect the public’s safety. This included 18 Bengal tigers, 17 lions, six black bears, three mountain lions, two grizzly bears, two wolves and a baboon not named George Bush.

     Wildlife expert ‘Jungle’ Jack Hanna, the Director of the Columbus Zoo and frequent guest on Late Night with David Letterman, said it was especially heartbreaking to see so many Bengal tigers killed when they are on the verge of extinction. He says the actions by the police saved a catastrophe. The pictures of the carnage were beyond heartbreaking. “It’s like Noah’s Ark wrecking right here in Zanesville, Ohio,” Hanna said.

     Three leopards, a grizzly bear and two monkey were captured and taken to the Columbus Zoo. Ohio has some of the most lax regulations of exotic animals in the country. Now here’s the kicker. Ohio requires permits for bears but doesn’t regulate the ownership of non-native animals, such as lions, tigers and Carolina Panthers. “There is an epidemic of private ownership of dangerous exotic animals in the United States,” says Wayne Pacelle, head of The Humane Society of the United States. “It’s a bit of a free-for-all in states like Ohio.” Just ask anyone involved with the football program at Ohio State.

     This leads me to a story written by Carolyn Jones in last week’s San Francisco Chronicle. The Oakland Zoo, which is not Raider fans residing in the end zones of the Oakland Coliseum, now has four new tigers that were brought in from in zoo in Brownsville, Texas. Zookeeper Erica Calcagno had only planned on bringing home only one of these six-year-olds, who are all sisters, but in her words, “”There’s no way we could take just one. They’re gorgeous. Even when they’re sleeping they’re gorgeous.” I wish I had a nickel for every time I heard those words uttered about me.

     The zoo staff hopes the tigers serve a broader purpose beyond entertaining visitors and locked out NBA players: to educate the public about tiger mills. As Tony the Tiger once told me, “They’re not Grrrrrreat!”

     Owning tigers is legal in 21 states, including California. More than 8,000 tigers live or rent in the U.S., far more than live in the wild globally. Of the 8,000, only a few hundred live in accredited zoos. The rest live in backyards, condos or studio apartments.

     “People get tigers because they’re cute and cuddly when they’re cubs. But then suddenly you’ve got this 200-pound thing that ate your dog,” said Jerry Stones, facilities director at the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, where Oakland’s newest big cats came from. That would create a problem when you want to play fetch with Rover.

     Much of the backyard tiger action is in Texas. These big cats are not in great demand at zoos because most of the tigers are mutts – neither Bengal, Princeton, Siberian, Auburn, Sumatran, LSU nor other endangered sub-species, and therefore not suitable for breeding. They’re simply called generic tigers or by their Latin name, Detroit Tigers.

     These four striped sisters were part of a roadside freak show, where visitors could pay $20 to have pictures taken with them, along with a couple of two-headed turtles and a 100-pound critter billed as the largest rodent in the world. I know the US government considers the biggest rat to be Wikileaks Founder Julian Assange.

     Then the tiger’s owners divorced and the new wife wasn’t crazy him about spending more money on raw chicken than chicken cordon bleu. The husband then told his ex-wife he was going to shoot the tigers, and the ex-wife called the authorities. Within a few hours, Stones was at the man’s house for a quick snack before herding the tigers onto a truck and bringing them to the Brownsville zoo. Then six more tigers came in from a similar rescue situation and the call
went out to the Oakland Zoo and the Cincinnati Bengals .

     This big cat dilemma is a critical issue for zoos, as many of the animals in Oakland were rescued from some less-than-ideal situations. It’s something to think about next time you visit your local zoo and wonder, how did these exotic animals end up here? And though it’s off the subject, how does that polar bear, who feels at home on ice flows, feel about his forced residence in the Bay Area?

     So good ol’ Texas, home to the Alamo, the NBA champion Dallas Mavericks and hair model Rick Perry, is the centerpiece in the billion-dollar exotic animal trade industry. Owning and breeding tigers is legal in Texas and 11 other states, including California. There are almost no regulations of exotic animals, so breeding, smuggling and snuggling with these giant cats, much like my second serve, is booming in the Lone Star State.

     Because no state or federal agency tracks the number of animals that are privately owned, no one knows how many tigers or other exotic animals pay taxes in Texas, which has the highest tiger-to-people ratio in the world. Estimates are that at least 4,000 are legally owned as pets by private citizens, which means more tigers are homeowners in Texas than roaming around the Taj Mahal in India.

     According to Silva Hayes from hubpages.com, there are over 12,000 tigers owned as pets in the US. A federal law prohibits businesses from displaying tigers older than six months with humans because the cats have become too big and dangerous. So then what do with all of these big boys and girls? I don’t even think Wayne Newton or Sigfried and Roy have the answer. When I asked when Mr. Las Vegas about this problem, he replied, “Danke Schoen, darling, Danke Schoen.

     Tigers are not difficult to breed in captivity, as the female just expects to be taken out to dinner first. And they can be had for free. A recent ad in Animal Finders, a subscription-only newspaper that advertises exotic animals for sale read “Tiger, free to a good home. Good with children and snapping the necks of antelope, rhinos and wild boars.”

     Tigers love to swim, can long jump 14 feet and much like some kids I went to sleep away camp with, will spray bucket loads of urine all over everything they wish to claim as theirs because this is how nature has taught them to guard territory.

     Once tigers are mature they no longer feel any love for their mother and if they run into her in the wild will kill her. Instinct and the internet tells them that they are competition and that their survival depends on being solitary. I admit to at times being perturbed with my mother but rarely wanted to administer a lethal bite to the nape of her neck.

     Most tigers weigh on average 650 pounds and like my therapist, possess phenomenal strength. Their bite can easily crush your femur or sever your vertebrae, killing you instantly, which would really spoil the weekend. Tigers are unpredictable and can kill you even when they are playing, which for me, would take a lot of fun out of the game.

     But fear not, as the good news is that when tigers do attack people, they rarely eat them. The bad news is that if you’re a honey-collector, woodcutter or fisherman in Sundarbans Tiger Reserve in India and Bangladesh, you might want to stay out of the mangrove jungle area. Between 1975 and 1989, 521 people were classified as dinner.

     Silva Hayes says the only way to save tigers from being overbred and abandoned is to make it unlawful to breed or possess a tiger. Tigers deserve to be free in the wild, where they can hunt and monitor their territory instead of stalking prey at Dallas Cowboy cheerleader auditions.

     For today’s photo foray, we are taking in the beauty of a couple of early October sunsets from the cliffs above Natural Bridges State Beach. The sunset season is just getting underway, as the really good stuff doesn’t usually hit until November, and then we party through till the end of January. Of course, there are exceptions to this color chart, but these are the three keys months in my
sunrise/sunset calendar, so stay tuned.

     To check out these photos, click on http://www.SunriseSantaCruz.com/blog.

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