Tug O' War with Big Cats, Tigers
Yay or nay?
In Tampa Bay, Florida, visitors to Busch Gardens have a chance to play tug of war with one of the strongest cats on the planet. The interactive exhibit is entitled “Tiger Tug”, and participants, double-fenced away safely from the big cat, ‘challenge’ a 450-pound Bengal tiger in the struggling match as each player tries to pull the rope from the grasp of the other. Many videos exist on Youtube highlighting the experience. The visitors seem to be having a blast. But what about the tiger? The tiger, with no gun or whip pointed to its head, appears to willingly participate. It’s unclear if they have been trained to perform the behavior, yet either way, the animals appear enthusiastic to ‘play’ with the zoo visitors, probably akin to a domesticated dog playing the same exact game with a toy rope.
However, not everyone is so thrilled with the exhibit. While the tug-o-war challenge has been running for a few years now, the staff of Busch Gardens recently posted an invitation to the event on the zoo’s Facebook page, igniting more interest to people previously unaware of it. While many people approved and ‘liked’ the status, I noticed a significant number of comments regarding the exhibit were negative. Not many people explained why they found the images troubling, but many of the comments were similar to each other, and some people felt the demonstration was taunting the animals (we all know that animals never experience any form of frustration or disappointment in the wild).
“I don’t like this 'frowny face'”, “wrong in every way” and “beyond stupid and cruel” were three of them.
Is the Tiger Tug ‘stupid’? Sometimes animal-performed spectacles get in the way of what many zoos should hope to achieve: education and appreciation. The problem is very apparent with zoos that engage in mundane and exploitative ‘circus’ acts at the expense of the animal’s welfare (common in some undeveloped countries). It would seem as though playing tug-o-war with a big cat is counterproductive to appreciating them in the wild. Or at least, some people’s ideas of what such appreciation should consist of.
With that being said, I believe those who are objecting to the Tiger Tug are shockingly irrational, and it perfectly illustrates my point about the emotional sentiment people have with wild/undomesticated animals. What’s obvious to me is that the tiger is not being forced to pull the rope, and the tiger is enjoying pulling the rope, so where is the issue? Calling the Tiger Tug cruel is an insult to any person or animal who has ever been a victim of actual cruelty.
The Tiger Tug provides a healthy source of stimulating enrichment which is imperative to captive mammals of every kind. Most likely no one would object to a tiger yanking on a rope simply tied to a post in its own enclosure. I’m guessing the involvement of the human is what bothers people; it is the emotional and illogical idea of a ‘magnificent beast’ being degraded as they are playing a simple game with a human weakling that is offensive.
That’s nice, but the tiger does not think this way nor do they care or subscribe to the emotional sentiment of humans.
I'm a strong supporter of activities that benefit both the animal and the zoo visitor. Educational or not, one of the best things zoos offer patrons is emotional education. Not many visitors read the little factoids posted alongside the animal's enclosures, but they are learning and appreciating the existence of these animals not only in the wild, but of their complex needs in captivity. And no, playing with a tiger behind the safety of 2 gates won't make people want them as pets, maybe I'm a little naïve here, but people simply aren't that stupid.
If people believe that this form of enrichment with captive animals is cruel just because it is 'unnatural', it’s no wonder I experience such a hard time trying to have sane conversations about the wellness of animals that are in zoos or are kept as ‘pets’ without being blasted and accused of ideas along the lines of cruelly violating nature.
No matter what you do, or what proof you provide, people will see the Tiger Tug (and much of the rest of captive animal situations) this way:
If an animal's needs are being met, cruelty or an unethical act is not being committed, period.
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