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Cat Defender

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Monday, January 28, 2008

Hopped Up on Vodka and Pot, Trio Taunted Tatiana Prior to Attacks That Led to Her Being Killed by the Police

"Tigers simply don't belong in the zoo. Tigers don't belong on concrete, tigers don't belong behind bars, and frankly, tigers don't belong near people."
-- Adam Roberts, Born Free USA

Slowly but surely the truth is finally emerging about the mauling of three young men by an Amur tigress known as Tatiana at the San Francisco Zoo on Christmas Day. (See photo above.) Not only did the louts taunt the tigress but they were all under the influence of Grey Goose vodka and pot.

That admission, made by nineteen-year-old Amritpal Dhaliwal, confirms numerous eyewitness reports that the cat was indeed taunted. Dhaliwal has denied, however, that the youths threw a tree branch and a pine cone, later found inside the enclosure, at the tigress. (See photo of Amritpal below.)

With a blood-alcohol content of .16, twice the legal limit, he also was as drunk as a bartender on his night off from work. Moreover, he was already on probation as the result of a previous conviction for drunk driving.

His twenty-three-year-old brother, Kulbir, had a .04 blood-alcohol content. (See middle photo below; he is the one on the right.) The third member of the group and the only one to be killed, Carlos Sousa Jr., had a blood-alcohol content of .02. (See bottom photo.)

Kulbir also has reportedly admitted to authorities that the trio smoked pot at home in San Jose before driving to the zoo. (See San Francisco Chronicle, January 18, 2008, "Mauling Survivor Said He Yelled at Tiger.")

Although the Dhaliwal brothers also were injured in the attack, the real victim of this unfortunate series of events was Tatiana who was mercilessly gunned down by the police. A necropsy performed on her corpse revealed that she was in such an agitated state that she broke several claws in her haste to scale the concrete wall that separated her from her tormentors.

Quite understandably, some critics are now calling for the zoo to be closed because of its persistent record of lax security and mistreatment of its inmates. Most glaringly, security appears to have been nonexistent on the day of the attacks.

Drunks should never be sold tickets and a security guard should have been stationed outside the tiger exhibit at all times in order to prevent incidents of this nature from occurring in the first place. More to the point, security and police should have been armed with tranquilizer bullets. Tatiana did not have to die.

Moreover, the fact that the wall surrounding the tiger exhibit was several feet too low raises serious questions about the level of oversight exercised by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which accredits such facilities.

Making matters worse, the zoo's negligence neither began nor ended with Tatiana's murder. In December of 2006 it was fined $18,000 by the state's OSHA office for allowing her to maul employee Lori Komejan inside a feeding cage.

Apparently having learned absolutely nothing from the events of Christmas Day, there were separate incidents earlier this month involving a snow leopard and polar bear that have raised new security and animal cruelty issues. (See The San Diego Union-Tribune, January 11, 2008, "New Animal Incidents Bring Fresh Attention to San Francisco Zoo.")

Taunting a zoo animal is considered to be misdemeanor under the law and the authorities are attempting to determine if the Dhaliwals have committed a felony as well. The brothers have responded by hiring famed shyster Mark Geragos to represent them. In the past he has defended such notables as Michael Jackson and Gary Condit although he is best remembered for botching Scott Peterson's defense.

Geragos also has indicated that he will most likely file a civil suit against the zoo on behalf of his clients. The Sousa family has likewise retained Michael Cardoza to represent them in a wrongful death lawsuit against the institution.

While the zoo is quite obviously guilty of failing to provide proper security in and around the tiger exhibit, these rowdies have no one to blame for their injuries except themselves. Moreover, they are guilty of causing Tatiana's death. It would therefore be an egregious miscarriage of justice if they were allowed to profit from the evil that they have done.

As it was to be expected, this incident has reignited the smoldering debate over whether tigers in fact belong in cages in the first place. Proponents argue that caged tigers not only play a vital role in raising public awareness of the animals' plight in the wild, but also that captive breeding programs preserve and enhance their genetic diversity.

Both arguments are clearly flawed. With their numbers declining almost everywhere, it is dishonest to argue that imprisoning tigers in zoos is beneficial to their conservation in the wild. Par exemple, only four-hundred-fifty to five-hundred Amur Tigers remain in the wild, which is about the same number that are held in zoos. There are maybe two-thousand Bengals, twelve-hundred Indochinese, six-hundred to eight-hundred Malayan Tigers, and four-hundred to five-hundred Sumatran Tigers.

By contrast, there are at the most only twenty to thirty South China Tigers left in the wild and this species is almost certain to join the Balinese, Javanese, and Caspian tigers in the dustbin of history. (See Cat Defender post of December 2, 2007 entitled "For the First Time in Three Decades, Rare South China Tiger Is Confirmed to Be Alive in the Wild.")

Tigers have been brought to the precipice of extinction because the political will to save them simply does not exist. Developers keep carving up their habitats and poachers continue to slaughter them for their valuable pelts and body parts, the latter of which is a staple of traditional Chinese medicine.

Valmik Thapar, who is working to save India's Bengal Tigers, summed up the dilemma rather well when he told the Washington Post on October 16, 2007, "...all the government cares about now is call centers, shopping malls, and apartments. That leaves the tiger situation in a miserable mess. So why save the tigers? Because saving the tigers means saving every insect in the forest, and the forest itself, and that's important not just to India, but to the world." (See "Poaching and Population Threaten India's Tigers.")

Adam Roberts of Born Free USA concurs. "The tiger is the perfect example of the way that zoos are missing the point about conservation," he told Salon on January 5th. (See "Tigers Don't Belong in the Zoo.") "There's an expenditure of millions if not tens of millions of dollars on captive tigers. If we really want tigers and not just a shell of the beast we call the tiger, the real emphasis needs to be first and foremost in the field."

Although captive breeding programs do preserve and expand their gene pool, reintroducing tigers into the wild so far has not proven to be feasible. Such a program jointly undertaken by conservationists in China and South Africa in order to save the South China Tiger may, however, prove the critics wrong.

If all goes according to plans, the first graduates of this innovative program are expected to be returned to China from Philippolis this year and released into the wild in order to coincide with the opening of the Summer Olympics.

Nevertheless, it seems absurd for zoos to spend time and money attempting to replicate the habitat that tigers enjoy in the wild when these scarce resources could be better put to use purchasing and fencing off their existing habitats. That way developers, hunters, and taggers could be kept out and the animals left to live in peace.

"If you are not going to set aside habitat where there are no humans you cannot have tigers," Thapar told The Independent on November 2, 2007. (See "The Face of a Doomed Species.")

Once again, Roberts of Born Free wholeheartedly agrees. "Tigers simply don't belong in the zoo. Tigers don't belong on concrete, tigers don't belong behind bars, and frankly, tigers don't belong near people," he told Salon in the article cited supra.

The root of the problem lies in man's insatiable greed and will to dominate. He is simply too greedy and violent in order to allow either the animals or Mother Earth to live. In fact, he is not even willing to allow most of his fellow humans to live!

Zoos make money off of caging and mistreating tigers and other animals while wildlife biologists and other members of the scientific community also clean up financially by repeatedly trapping and fitting animals with surveillance equipment. Although all of these groups like to masquerade as conservationists, they are every bit as predatory as capitalists and hunters.

As far as the San Francisco Zoo is concerned, all immediate attention desperately needs to be focused on the welfare of its three remaining Amur Tigers. Based upon the gross negligence that it displayed with Tatiana, it would be far preferable if these magnificent animals were relocated to a sanctuary. Regrettably, returning them to the wild is not an option.

Photos: San Francisco Zoo (Tatiana), Paul Chinn of the San Francisco Chronicle (Amritpal and Kulbir Dhaliwal), and Sousa Family (Carlos Sousa Jr.).