Spare those tigers

After the fuss raised by the shooting of the rare white tiger that killed a keeper at the Zion wildlife park, Alf welcomes hearing the case for the defence presented today by one of the company’s bosses.

One concern is that the killer tiger, Abu, was one of only 120 white tigers left in the world. But –

Yesterday, park operations manager Glen Holland said people were wrong to think that the death of white tigers might endanger the population of Bengal tigers.

“I just cannot get over the public of New Zealand saying ‘the poor tiger’ – it really is just unbelievable,” he said.

“Conserving white tigers is for people’s pleasure. It is not conservation.

“People may conserve white tigers because they like them but they’re purely a mutation and it is nothing to do with conservation of wild tigers …

“If they died out, it would make absolutely no difference to Bengal tigers.”

Mr Holland said white tigers were “a freak, a mutation”, rather than a sub-species or an endangered species.

Dunno if that’s much of a justification for shooting Abu.

It’s neither here nor there to Alf if the tiger was a freak. Freaks or not, tigers shouldn’t be killed for behaving like tigers instead of like the striped pussy cats that people want them to be.

Holland makes two other points, however:

The decision to shoot Abu was made in accordance with the park’s protocol, and he was confident it was correct.

And the tiger was shot during the attack, not afterwards as had been claimed.

Wildlife Gardens staff, meanwhile, have been banned from contact with the big cats and the park has been closed to the public following the death of keeper Dalu Mncube.

So which agency shut the place down, and what legislation did it invoke to do so?

The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry said yesterday that the park had been closed temporarily under the Biosecurity Act of 1993.

The park’s operations manager, Glen Holland, told the Weekend Herald yesterday that the Department of Labour and MAF had enforced the ban on human contact while they investigate the death.

Mr Holland said the park had been told to renovate all its enclosures so that the animals inside could be kept completely segregated from people.

“There will be no more staff-cat interaction.”

Mr Holland said renovations on the cages would be carried out over at least the next two weeks.

He did not know if the animals would be allowed within human reach again. “We’ll just keep working on it until there’s absolute compliance.”

These steps seem smarter than shooting the beasts.

And Alf is heartened to learn the park will remain closed until it can consistently comply with the animal welfare and enclosure requirements for zoos and wildlife parks.

“At this point in time, MAF is ensuring that the welfare of the animals is not compromised and the park is being well managed. There is no intention to euthanase any of the animals,” the ministry’s statement said.

But MAF’s bureaucrats aren’t the only ones to move in.

The Department of Labour has also served two “improvement notices” on the park and is working to ensure compliance with the notices.

There are plenty of questions to be answered, of course.

Was Mncube (and the support staff) appropriately trained and qualified for their work?

Was he overworked and rushing his chores?

Why was Abu not locked up in his den box during cleaning?

The Herald has a good editorial today, saying the park’s future must be in considerable doubt after the fatal mauling.

The attack was the third at Zion in just over a year. It seemed, therefore, all the odder that the keeper was cleaning out a cage while a tiger was still there. This points to safety practices that may not defer sufficiently to the unpredictable behaviour of wild animals.

The hugging of the big cats by keepers undoubtedly has an endearing quality, but a claim on Zion’s website that visitors will be able to “pat the tiger” suggests this is an enterprise focused more on appeal to tourists than conservation.

The Herald concludes:

Last November, the ministry was so worried about conditions that it considered having the lions and tigers put down. That must not be allowed to happen.

The Bengal white tiger shot after the keeper’s death
was one of only 120 in the world. It seems inconceivable that most of the park’s animals could not be rehoused appropriately in overseas zoos and parks. Given the turmoil and tribulations at Zion, this seems the most enlightened course.

Alf goes along with that.

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