Punishing a tiger for being a tiger is ludicrous. So far, we have not heard of any plans to kill the tiger at the New Delhi zoo.
By Vicki Croke
A 20-year-old man, identified by police as Maqsood Khan, either jumped or fell into an enclosure in a New Delhi zoo yesterday and was killed by a white tiger.
The horrifying incident was captured in still photos and videos by the cellphones of several witnesses. Some of those images have gone viral.
Apparently, the man dropped down into a dry moat surrounding the tiger exhibit. According to the Times of India:
The majestic six-foot, seven-year-old tiger, named Vijay, which was some distance away, saw the man in the concrete moat, that was covered with dry leaves, and bounded up to him.
Zoo-goers, apparently, began to throw sticks and rocks down at the tiger.
According to Ellen Barry and Nida Najar, writing for the New York Times:
Anil Kumar, a police spokesman, said Mr. Khan was in the enclosure at the National Zoological Park for 10 minutes before he was killed. Photographs showed Mr. Khan several feet from the tiger, his hands folded as if in prayer.
The images—of a thin man crouched down, face-to-face with a massive tiger—are arresting. They are like a dream from our primitive past. The thought of being overpowered and eaten by a huge predator is as primal as it gets.
I’ve written about incidents like this one over the years, and usually there are questions raised about euthanizing the animal. One online source wrote:
“Zoo officials did not say what would happen to the tiger that attacked the boy… although … many people believe the animal should be put down.”
Punishing a tiger for being a tiger is ludicrous. So far, we have not heard of any plans to kill the tiger. But even zoos that would never consider such an action are often enough questioned about it.
After a young keeper named Sarah McClay was killed in a UK zoo by a tiger in 2013, her mother spoke to The Independent of London about calls to kill the tiger. Mrs McClay said:
“That is absolutely 100 per cent not what Sarah would not have wanted. She would not have blamed the tiger for anything [that] had happened.”
In 1994, I wrote for The Boston Globe about a keeper at the Miami Zoo who was mauled by a white tiger named Lucknow. What shocked people at the time was that the animal did not eat the zookeeper. Lucknow wasn’t hungry, but he was fast and powerful:
Tigers—yes, even those lie-about zoo tigers—do not fool around. A tiger tends to attack from behind with the force of perhaps 30 men, quickly breaking the neck of its victim. Rather than snapping the neck, however, a new study, from John Seidensticker at the National Zoo in Washington has discovered that with prey smaller than a buffalo, these cats tend to sink their canines into the animal’s (or human’s) neck, crushing the vertebrae.
Attacks in zoos can carry surprises. I was haunted by a detail from a 1988 killing at the Houston Zoo I wrote about in my book “The Modern Ark.” In that case, a 450-pound Siberian/Bengal mix named Miguel pulled a zookeeper named Ricardo Tovar through a small, reinforced glass window with such force that the man’s ribs were broken and some clothes and equipment were ripped away in the process. The cat killed Tovar, but shortly afterward, was observed pulling the man by the head, in what looked like a tender movement, “like a mother cat carrying a kitten.” The striking assertion that the tiger had been so gentle in that moment was confirmed later by the coroner, who said there were no marks left on Tovar’s head from the cat’s grip.
In the case of the Houston attack, a zoo emergency call went out as soon as the broken glass was discovered by another zookeeper. But in New Delhi, the speed of the zoo’s response is being questioned. The New York Times reports:
Zoos in India are regulated by a federal agency, the Central Zoo Authority, but are typically understaffed and overcrowded, said Bittu Sahgal, the editor of the wildlife and conservation magazine Sanctuary Asia. He said that officials often failed to register animal births or deaths publicly, and that supervision was scattershot.
Under existing regulations, Mr. Sahgal said, an episode such as Tuesday’s should have set off a fast-moving emergency plan.
“If someone walked inside, or fell inside, there should have been tranquilizer guns, there should have been rifles, and it should have been three or four minutes,” he said. “The boy’s life should have been saved.”
At least one British newspaper mistakenly referred to white tigers as an endangered species. All tigers are endangered, but white tigers are not a separate species. In fact, the poor animals are now basically manufactured by people. Tigers with blue coats and white eyes have occasionally appeared in the wild—the combination is the result of recessive genes meeting up. But in captivity, human beings deliberately inbreed these animals—mating close relatives—to produce the unusually colored cats who will draw a crowd. All that inbreeding results in unhealthy cats with genetic problems. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums here in North America banned its member zoos from breeding white tigers in 2011. (Took them a long time to do it—many of us had been writing about the issue for at least 15 years before that.)