On Monday, November 26th, 2012, my wife and I went to the zoo for the day. We met Kazek, this 9 year old Amur tiger. We watched Zoo workers interact with Kazek, working through a voluntary training program. If Kazek agrees to show them his paws, and his teeth, and get poked in the thigh (to get him used to it, in order to facilitate injections) he gets a treat. After the training, he paced around, growling and roaring, which is when I took the video.
Getting to see this amazing creature was unbelievable. He was strong and proud and powerful.

And caged.

Were it not for zoos, people such as myself would never get close to pretty much any of the animals. And if by some chance I ever did, I would likely be in danger of losing my life.
It’s one thing to read about animals, or see pictures of them, or watch videos or shows about them…and quite another to see them in person. I’ve made eye contact with a grizzly bear. Watched a polar bear eat some fish for lunch. Laughed at a young elephant as it climbed over a log and played in the mud, as her mother munched on some food nearby. Seen a crocodile swim so deftly it never made a ripple in the water.
Fortunately for me, not once was my life close to ending. Unfortunately for the animals, they were in cages.

Going to a zoo is always a mixed bag of feelings for me. I enjoy it. I am amazed by it. I always look forward to going back. However, I also always wish these amazing animals could be free, out in the wild, living their life the way nature intended. This amazing and powerful tiger, for example, should be prowling the hills, forests, and river valleys of Siberia, hunting for it’s dinner, attracting a mate, finding a safe place to sleep. Not pacing 20 or 30 feet of a completely enclosed pen.

Now, I don’t think the zoo is mis-treating the animals in anyway. The area was large enough the tiger could hide from our view if he wanted, there are trees, and overhangs to huddle under, and dirt to walk on. It’s much nicer than a 10×10 cell, a cement floor surrounded by bars. Kazek isn’t forced to do any tricks. If he doesn’t want to show his paws or teeth to the zoo workers, he doesn’t have to. The only thing that happens is that he doesn’t get a treat.
Zoos also provide a safe retreat from the dangers of living in the wild. Kazek doesn’t have to worry about hunting a good meal or staying safe while he sleeps. He also doesn’t have to worry about human development encroaching on their territory and hunting him out of fear, for profit, or for fun.
(Amur tigers used to be called Siberian tigers, because they ranged all over Siberia. Now, there are about 300 in the wild, and they all live in one river valley, the Amur river. So their name was changed to the Amur tiger. At least according the zoo employee who was talking to us about tigers.)
There are other animals that would be completely extinct if not for the population kept in zoos. Many zoos also support programs that help protect various animals in the wild, and the original, wild habitats they live in, both directly and through education.
So, even though I see Kazek pacing his relatively small enclosure and think he should be wild and free, in many ways, he is freer where he is.

The lesson I am learning as I am writing this post, is to go to the zoo, meet amazing animals, enjoy the experience, and learn new things. Including learning what I might be able to do to help the animals that are still in the wild stay in the wild, and to be free the way nature intended.

~

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder, and what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? and what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And watered heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

– William Blake

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