What dread hand and what dread feet?


in Canada, Daily updates

Oxford gardens

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.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous May 13, 2007 at 4:23 pm

“these are the times of dreamy quietude, when beholding the tranquil beauty and brilliancy of the ocean’s skin, one forgets the tiger heart that pants beneath it; and would not willingly remember, that this velvet paw but conceals a remorseless fang.”

Herman Melville. “Moby Dick.”

Anonymous May 13, 2007 at 4:26 pm
Milan May 13, 2007 at 5:16 pm

I believe that it was Lisa Simpson who highlighted how the impossibility of taking revenge on an animal is “the whole point of Moby Dick.” This happens in the episode The Fat and the Furriest, where Homer tries to take vengeance on a bear.

Tim May 13, 2007 at 11:05 pm

While protecting animals is (to some extent) a worthy use of legislative muscle, the facts of this case support little to no stricter animal behaviour laws; these owners were in violation of those already on the books.

It seems to me that, in this case, the primary issue was people who somehow thought it was a good idea to KEEP A FREAKING TIGER IN A CHAIN LINK CAGE THEN TRY TO PET IT!! And we ought not be in the business of criminalizing peoples’ stupidity.

Milan May 13, 2007 at 11:07 pm


I agree completely that keeping a tiger in a chain link fence is unacceptable. To me, owning one in the first place seems to be. They are listed under CITES after all. It seems odd that you cannot trade in tiger products but, as a Canadian, you can own an entire live tiger.

New law may well not be required, but a bit more oversight seems to be.

R.K. May 14, 2007 at 1:44 am

I am shocked that it is even possible to own a tiger in Canada.

Where does someone buy one?

Ben May 14, 2007 at 8:47 am

Apparently in the middle ages animals were actually put on trial, though I’m not sure what attitude to their responsibility this reflected – at least it sounds a bit more humane than a death sentence without trial!

Edward May 15, 2007 at 2:26 am

Maybe we should put the tiger on trial. There’s a group in Austria that is advocating that chimps be given legal rights in a court of law. No, not animal rights; we’re talking human rights.

Milan May 15, 2007 at 1:10 pm


Putting anyone on trial is meant to determine two things: whether there was an actus reus, or guilty act, and a mens rea, or guilty mind.

While the first is reasonably clear, provided the tiger did not strike the woman by accident, proving the latter would be impossible. Under the principle of actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea (the act does not make a person guilty unless the mind is also guilty) it really does not seem as though a tiger could be convicted of anything.

Milan May 15, 2007 at 1:17 pm

Anyhow, the sentence has already been carried out.

Milan May 15, 2007 at 1:27 pm

Finally, we wouldn’t want to drive the tigers to a life under the sea

Milan June 5, 2007 at 12:19 pm

Douglas Adams has a good quotation relating to this:

“We talked about how easy it was to make the mistake of anthropomorphising animals, and projecting our own feelings and perceptions on to them, where they were inappropriate and didn’t fit. We simply had no idea what it was like being an extremely large lizard, and neither for that matter did the lizard, because it was not self-conscious about being an extremely large lizard, it just got on with the business of being one. To react with revulsion to its behaviour was to make the mistake of applying criteria that are only appropriate to the business of being human.”

From “Last Chance to See”

. October 10, 2009 at 6:05 pm

Tiger’s victims charged


Last Updated: 10th October 2009, 5:37am

CALGARY — Two men who broke into the Calgary Zoo and got on the wrong side of a tiger have been charged.

Trever James Wearmouth and Thomas Anthony Bryce-Hart, both 27, will appear in court to face one count each of trespassing.

Two intruders scaled a 2.5-metre fence topped with barbed wire north of the zoo’s west gate about 1 a.m. last Monday and headed to the tiger exhibit.

Investigators believe the men jumped over a fence and approached the tiger enclosure, potentially sticking their arms inside the holes in the wire toward Vitali, a 150-kg male Siberian tiger.

. January 11, 2010 at 7:36 am

Exotic animal owner killed by 650-pound tiger

66-year-old kept animal on his property and was attacked during feeding

Caroline Alphonso

From Monday’s Globe and Mail Published on Sunday, Jan. 10, 2010 9:27PM EST Last updated on Monday, Jan. 11, 2010 7:14AM EST

A 66-year-old exotic animal owner from southern Ontario was attacked and killed by his 650 pound tiger as he entered the animal’s cage to feed it.

Ontario Provincial Police were aware that Norman Buwalda kept exotic animals on his property in Southwold, southwest of London, when they responded to an emergency call Sunday afternoon.

A family member had found Mr. Buwalda a short time after the incident and managed to lock the Siberian male tiger in a separate portion of the cage. Mr. Buwalda, who was the chairman of the Canadian Exotic Animal Owner’s Association, was pronounced dead at the scene.

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