Tragically and unusually, someone in British Columbia was killed by a tiger this week. Apparently, the animal was privately owned and part of some sort of exotic zoo. The 32 year old woman was standing near the cage when a single paw strike severed her femoral artery. As a consequence, people have called for tougher laws on the ownership of such animals and the tiger has been killed.
The first measure seems entirely reasonable. It is well worth asking whether ownership of endangered and dangerous animals should be permitted. Certainly, the incident demonstrates that they are not always confined appropriately. Whether their welfare is being adequately maintained or not is another concern. According to the the Victoria Times-Colonist “the tigers were kept in small chain-link cages with no flooring.” It sounds as though the circumstances in which the animals were held were neither respectful, humane, nor intelligent. Apparently, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has tried several times since 2005 to have this tiger seized from its owner, on the basis of both safety and animal welfare. Paul Springate of the Rainforest Reptile Refuge has some intelligent comments on the failures in the current Canadian system for managing exotic animals. It seems intuitively obvious that if people are allowed to own such animals (itself a policy of dubious quality), there must be standards for keeping them and a system of inspections.
Putting the tiger to death, on the other hand, strikes me as highly inappropriate. It should come as no revelation to anybody that tigers are dangerous and that spending time at close quarters with one could imperil you. It is certainly a tragedy that this young woman’s life was cut short and it makes perfect sense to investigate the conditions that led to it and act upon them. Punishing a tiger simply for being a tiger, on the other hand, is an inappropriate extension of vengeance into a situation where it makes no sense to apply.