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Friday, December 28, 2007

Artificial Wildness is Poor Policy for Tiger Keepers!



I was saddened to hear over Christmas that 3 young men were victims of a Christmas Day tiger attack at the San Francisco Zoo and that one had died as a result of his wounds. I would also like to express my condolences to the staff of the zoo who also lost Tatiana, a female Amur tiger in the incident. It is the policy of many AZA zoos to minimize contact between keepers and the big predators like tigers, but keepers do develop a strong affection for the creatures they care for.

It is natural, in the wake of an incident like this to look around at the smaller tiger refuges, zoos and animal theme parks and wonder just how safe visitors are there. We don’t like to think a simple outing at the zoo with our children can end with a tragedy like this.

“Captive is captive,” says Tiger Missing Link Foundation director, Brian Werner, “…and you cannot duplicate a wild setting in captivity with captive tigers, all captive tigers should be acclimated with people as this better ensures safety of the tigers and people.

At Tiger Creek and facilities like Jack Hannah's Columbus Zoo, the keepers work extensively with the cats to develop a relationship with the animals. This provides an extra layer of safety so that should a cat escape for some reason, it is far less likely to attack someone. Many AZA accredited facilities discourage keeper interaction with their tigers and lions on the theory that somehow it is better for the captive animal to remain in a "wild" state.

Jack Hannah, interviewed on Good Morning America argued against this policy saying, “Tigers you see in captivity today, are NOT taken out of the wild. Tigers are born and raised here in the states. Tigers are endangered. You see more AZA escapes and attacks as each year goes by due to human error, AZA zoos do not encourage any handling of their animals, this is where the fault lies. If there was human interaction then maybe the outcome would have been different.

As we have seen, if a "wild" tiger does escape its pen, its instincts are going to be to find prey- which is exactly what happened in San Francisco. In this case, there may have been some taunting of the animal by the victims and if this proves to be the case, it only accentuates the need for adding every layer of additional security possible to our animal exhibits.

“While tigers are always wild animals,” says Brian Werner, “One advantage that we have here at Tiger Creek is that our animals are conditioned and have what we refer to as ‘cage manners’. Basically our tigers are imprinted or acclimated to people through various types of training and teaching methods. The tigers at Tiger Creek could still be dangerous just not typically as aggressive as the zoo cats. The zoos like to keep their tigers in their "wild state". They actually pride themselves on this fact. At Tiger Creek we know that this zoo approach makes a tiger much more aggressive and more stressed and even scared of people, which in turn could more easily lead to an adverse situation if confronted without barriers.

“A secondary factor is that some of our best-trained and experienced staffers here have been in with a tiger and know how to work with the cats and not against them. Zoo staff has zero experience at that level which in turn could make for an even more nervous situation if confronted head on with a tiger. It's just as important that staff be trained and acclimated to tigers as it is for the tigers themselves. Nonetheless despite all of what we do we do not mean to undermine that in general tigers are and can be dangerous.”

Maintaining a 'wild' tiger in captivity only makes the animal more angry, unhappy and likely to hurt someone. A hand-raised tiger that knows and has genuine affection for its keepers, that lives in an environment with plenty of mental stimulus and opportunities to play is unlikely to summon up the sort of rage that Tatiana (the SF tiger) exhibited in breaking out of what should have been a safe area. Had keepers paid more attention to her and to making her content and happy, the incident might never have happened. At least, someone should have kept a better eye on visitors to the tiger viewing areas.

At Tiger Creek, we escort visitors around the facility and even when they are allowed to “look around” on their own, there is never a staff member far from the party to prevent young people from taunting the cats or doing foolish things that could get them hurt. We keep double and triple barriers between the cats and visitors and maintain two additional safety barriers – Our staff and the relationship they have with the cats.

Tiger Creek staff maintains a close watch on visitors at all time, eliminating the chance of a visitor causing a tiger to become agitated as apparently happened in San Francisco. There is also a strong interactive relationship between tigers and the keepers. Because Tiger Creek’s cats are either hand-raised or have a great deal of human interaction during rehabilitation, our keepers know their personalities. Problem or spooky tigers are kept farther from the public behind more barriers where visitors can’t disturb them. They are rotated to exercise yards and given play toys. Staff do target training to make it easier to provide care to the animals without having to risk getting in the cages with them. Access to the animals’ living spaces is limited to senior keepers who know their business and take no chances. A content, happy tiger is a lot less likely to jump over a wall and attack a visitor.

Tiger Creek Wildlife Refuge is working on building a new program at the refuge to train zookeepers and wildlife professionals in how to implement this multi-layered captive management approach that layers facility, maintenance, training and relationship building into an integrated safety system with greater redundancy built into it. As the number of tigers and other large cats in captivity inevitably increases, it is important that we thoroughly train a new generation of captive managers and keepers.

If you’d like to be a part of creating that training program and improving the safety of our zoos, refuges and wildlife parks, contact me at (903) 714-2353 or by e-mail at development@tigerlink.org to find out what you can do to help us prepare provide a safe home for our tigers and a safe place for our children to watch and learn about them. You can also visit us at http://www.tigerlink.org/ and http://www.tigercreek.org/ to find out more about what we do at Tiger Missing Link Foundation.

There are just over 320 tigers in AZA accredited zoos in the US. There are more than 3,000 in refuges, animal theme parks and smaller zoos. The majority of attacks, however have occurred in AZA zoos and often in large ones like San Francisco, San Antonio and Denver, while smaller refuges like Tiger Creek and zoos like Tyler’s Caldwell zoo, which shares the Tiger Creek philosophy of hand-raising captive cats, have had few major incidents. Tiger Creek has had no serious injury or incident on its grounds or during the many sponsored rescues it has conducted since it opened 12 years ago. Tiger Creek manages nearly 40 cats in its facility with up to 9 intern/trainees on staff at a time. The Refuge's safety policies have worked there as they have in hundreds of other refuges and small zoos and I believe it is because these folks take a practical approach to captive management that recognizes that a happy cat is a safer cat. That's one more safety layer that AZA should consider recommending to its associated zoos.

Finally, we're already hearing from the left-wing Animal Rights community declaring we should hold no animals in captivity EVER and using this incident to support their position. Ironically, it's the zoo's misguided attempts to placate the AR people that I believe has led to the too-common policy of keeping captive animals in a supposedly pristine "wild" state. Like Brian said, "Captive is captive." It's not safe or responsible to deliberately cultivate large captive predators "wild nature". The Environmentalist newspaper, 'Daily Green' calls San Francisco Zoo's policies "enlightened". If so, is there a correlation between enlightenment and poor safety. This is the second time Tatiana has attacked a human.

How many more tigers and humans need to die before someone rejects this politically correct, but wrong-headed nonsense. There's not enough room in the wild to maintain a genetically healthy tiger population or insure the safety of humans living in Southeast Asia. Sending all tigers back to the wild as The Daily Green proposes, merely insures their extinction. It would be nice to do for all animals to live in the wild, but we can't right now unless we're willing to accept their extinction. Self-righteous pressure from the greenies to keep animals in some idealized "natural state" has only promoted half-measures by zookeepers and compromises public safety.

Just one man's opinion

Tom


Saturday, December 22, 2007

Santa Kinda Creeps Me Out Now....



It's happened again. In the constant evolution of the English language, there are moments that change our culture forever. The invention of such phrases as "You know" as an interjectory interrogative (I'm like, you know, going to, you know, go fix some, like you know, supper, you know!" have really slowed down the pace of American life. Other great moments in the evolution of English include the addition of new usages for words like , "Dude","Man", "Like" and "Inappropriate".

Well, listen up all you fans of politically corrective changes in the language (remember the attempt at substituting "hir" for the use of "his" as the standard possessive pronoun when you didn't know the sex of the person). We've got it goin' on this Christmas.

You'll be pleased to know that in the interest of interracial sensitivity, Santa Clauses are now being prohibited by the owners of toy stores, malls and department stores from saying "Ho, ho, ho". We all recognize that there has been a lot of uncomfortably negative recent publicity surrounding the use of the word "Ho" by radio shock jock Don Imus.

Apparently the word is a colloquial reference to women employed in a less than prestigious line of public service.

Santa Clauses now have been instructed to say "Ha, Ha, Ha" instead of the traditional "H.." word. One Aussie Santa has even been fired for refusing to go along with the switch.

Now, I'm all for political correctness and all, but having heard Santas out there going "Ha, ha, ha", I have to admit it kind of creeps me out. Frankly, it sounds like he's laughing at the children rather than with them.

I know, when I was 8 years old, if Santa had said to me, "Climb up in my lap little boy, Ha, Ha, Ha....", well I'd have been climbing up over the fuzzy red barrier and crawling for safety using the fake reindeer for cover.

I mean we might as well have Santas up there going, "Hey, ever played the 'altar boy' game - ha, ha, ha!" or maybe, "Pssst, kid! Ever watch gladiator movies?" I actually put on my Santa suit and tried out alternative laughs in front of the mirror.

"Hee, hee, hee," sounds too rodent-like.

"Hoo, hoo, hoo," sounds like a baboon (or Tim Allen when he's not actually playing Santa Claus). That's no good.

"Haw, haw, haw," is way to British aristocracy for my taste.

"Hmm, hmm, hmmmph," came out sounding a little sinister (...is that a candy cane in your pocket, there Santa, or have you been out standing in the cold north wind again?)

"Ho, ho, ho" is really the only way that sounds non-threatening.

Look this kind of thing has been tried before. Remember when Enco discovered that it's company name was some kind of obscene insult in French or Belgian or one of those snooty European languages. They did a search to find a new name that wouldn't offend anyone. What did they come up with?

Exxon!

A name which apparently offends nearly everyone equally - at least everyone who "counts" in the incestuous world of the politically correct.

Oh, well. from this Santa, a big old, a non-threatening, culturally neutral...

"Ho, Ho, Ho!"

And a very Merry Christmas, Hannukah, Ramadan, Kwanza, Winter Solstice and Fiscal New Year (the sacred holiday of all tax accountants)!*

*No offense intended to any person living or dead. The expression "Ho" is not intended as a comment upon the occupational choices, worth as a human being or personal habits of any woman, man or person of ambiguous gender. Anyone using this essay for the purposes of hurting the feelings of any person living or dead, their family, friends, lawyers or CPA's are advised that such use violates the implied writer/reader contract implicit in the posting of this work of attempted humor/opinion in a public space. May not be used without permission of the author, the RCIAA, ASCAP, Michael Jackson Properties, Ltd, Halliburton, Inc. and the National Association of Serious Tax-Accountant Yuppies (NASTY). Improper use of this essay will force the author to send his cousin, "Thumbless" Guido O'Hoolihan, the Irish-Italian enforcer over to your house to let the air out of your tires, to put a stink bomb in your mailbox or to toilet paper the trees in your front yard, so you better just watch out! (c) 2007 by T. King esq.




Wednesday, December 12, 2007

New Happy Birthday Song


The issue of copyright infringement and the payment of royalties for "The Happy Birthday to You Song" has gotten ridiculous!! You know the song I mean. We all grew up singing it to each other on our birthdays. We've all sang, "You look like a monkey and you smell like one too!"

But I won't put any of the actual lyrics here since I can't afford the royalty payments and this could be considered use of the song for profit making if my readership ever gets large enough to support advertising. The movie The Corporation claimed that Warner/Chappell, the copyright holders charge up to US$10,000 for the song to appear in a film. The Walt Disney Company paid the copyright holder US $5,000 to use the song in the birthday scene of the defunct Epcot attraction Horizons. In a 1987 documentary about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Eyes on the Prize, there was a scene in which Dr. King was feeling discouraged. In the scene, at a birthday party for him, there was a significant beginning of his discouragement lifting. The film was not able to be released when the filmmaker could not afford the $10,000 it would cost to include the sequence that included the "Happy Birthday to You" song. (cited in Wikipedia's article on the song)

The furor of copyrights has gotten ridiculous in some quarters. So, I propose we create a new birthday song. Now is the perfect opportunity for someone to make up a new Birthday Song to replace the old one.

So, today, I decided to write a new birthday song and promote it to replace the old copyrighted one. My Sweet Baboo helped me come up with this rather pretty one in the car coming home from Christmas shopping tonight. She's got a good ear for composition and we both contributed ideas.

I'd love to put the greedy Happy Birthday song hijackers out of business and send a message to ASCAP, BMA and RIAA that we're "Mad as an old wet hen and we're not going to take it anymore!"

So, here is Tom & Sheila King's "New Happy Birthday Song"


The Birthday Song
Lyrics by Tom & Sheila King
Tune by Alexander Hume - 1850
(a setting of Robert Burns' "Flow Gently Sweet Afton")


Today is your birthday
And we’re all gathered here
To say that we love you
And wish you good cheer.
Rich blessings and joy,
Happy birthday to you.
Happy Birthday dear (insert name here) .
May your dreams all come true.

Copyright 2007 – Public Domain (No one living or dead may charge anyone for the use of this song in any public or private gathering, on any type of recording, film or live broadcast.)

The tune we used is at this link: http://www.contemplator.com/scotland/afton.html

Now if everyone will just pass it on, we can make this song famous and strike a blow for free use of birthday songs (and maybe we can supplant that awful one they do in restaurants now!

Just one man's opinion....

Tom King

Friday, December 07, 2007

Forget Their Very Names


Today, in the wake of the Omaha Mall shooting, the news media is rushing to get the killer's image on their front pages as quickly as possible. In the next two weeks we will be treated to an exhaustive study of the young man who killed 8 innocent people - his history, his psyche and his motivation. Endless television, radio and print media reporters will beat their chests and cry "Why, why, why?"


They are answering their own question.

The news media will trot out pundits who cry for more gun control and for less gun control because political fights are fun for reporters, who enjoy tossing raw meat in amongst the hyenas and watching the fun that follows. The wise men amongst us will speculate as to who is to blame as though the issue were entirely black and white.

It is not. I have extensive experience confronting violent people. I worked for many years with violent children and teens. I've stood nose to nose with a young man who had a 6 inch hunting knife pointed at my unprotected belly and talked my way out of it. Violent behavior cannot be understood in black and white.

Many speculate about whether allowing mall patrons to carry guns would have made a difference and in the ensuing verbal smoke, we all ask ourselves whether, if we had been there and we had been armed, would we have been able to fire the shot that ended that young man's life - even if it might have saved the lives of the innocent bystanders.

I know that answer for myself because of my training and experience with violent people. If I were the only one in the line of fire, I would think twice. I used to work with mental patients and with a patient who was having a violent episode, I would always try to talk him down before doing any sort of restraint of physical intervention. I am prepared to turn the other cheek so long as that cheek is my cheek alone.

However, if there is another person, in danger, threatened especially by an armed individual, I would not hesitate to take the attacker down. The large teenaged boys I dealt with in the psych facilities where I worked, soon learned that so long as they only threatened me, they were not likely to suffer the indignity of being taken to the ground by a paunchy old guy and were more likely to walk away with some dignity in tact. They also knew that if they continued to attack or seriously threaten someone else, especially someone smaller, it was the quickest way imaginable to find themselves pinned to the floor by the paunchy old guy. The sudden ignominious end to the confrontation entirely spoiled the drama for them, so they quit threatening others in those situations and confined themselves to shouting obscenities at me - much more dramatic and satisfying for them.

There is a reason every major massacre in recent years has taken place in a gun-free zone. No homicidal killer wants to raise his gun and have someone shoot him in the head before he can start killing people. It would totally ruin the effect he is aiming for. It takes a way all the drama. My work with deeply troubled teens gave me a real insight into what goes on in the minds of people who resort to large scale violence to cope with their unhappiness.

I actually had kids in therapy who told me they planned to "die in a hail of police gunfire". They wanted to die spectacularly and to become famous. It's a pathetic search for a way to leave a mark in a world that they feel they have no stake in.

But, if we deny them the fame, then we deny them the very thing that motivates them to kill. The most effective tool we have to prevent this sort of mayhem is to make sure that whoever does this kind of thing is wiped from our collective memory - their names forgotten for all time.

It's the only thing that will work. To ever do this, we would need to re-invent our culture and make our morbid curiosity generally unacceptable. We could still allow for the morbidly curious to get their news fix about the victims - simply use an obviously fake name.

Those who want to die in a hail of gunfire have a deadly fear of being anonymous. The last thing they inevitably say in this life is something to the effect that "I'll show them. They'll never forget me."

How about let's show them. How about let's forget them. Let's not even remember their names. It would be a kindness to their families. It would be a kindness to the victims families. It might even dissuade others from copying this young man's example. It might just save some lives and all it requires is that we give up our morbid fascination with mass murders. How hard is that?

Sure, with a free press, you'll always get bloggers and sensational newspapers that won't go along with it, but even then, if they are in the disapproved of minority, the killer still loses his or her desired fame and attention. If you're only going to be remembered by some obscure blogger or weekly gossip rag, what's the point. These guys are going for national news media and front page headlines, not a place beside Bigfoot and that space alien that tells the presidents what to do.

I'm doing my best to forget them all. When I read a news story, I deliberately avoid paying attention to the name of the killer at all. To this day I couldn't tell you who the Virginia Tech guy was or name a single high school shooter or the McDonald's guy, the Killeen shooter or any of the other mass murders of the past 20 years. You can deliberately forget someone if you try hard.

So....

What if every one of us pledged to never say or write the name of a mass murderer again? What if we each told ten friends and asked them to do the same and they, in turn, told ten friends and so on and so on. In just a few repetitions, you can wind up with an astronomical number of people who have heard the idea. If half of us took the pledge, we could create a cultural phenomenon where a culture (or at least a sizeable chunk of that culture) conciously decided to change itself and renounce the glorification of these people.

What if we threatened to stop watching news media that ran endless photographs and profiles of the killers. I noticed today that I haven't seen one single photo of the victims, yet, but that smarmy delinquent that murdered 8 innocent people is on the front page of everywhere. It makes me sick and it's cruel to his family.

So, let's just stop it. I'll write my ten letters. How about you?

Just one man's opinion...

Tom King