Don’t mess with the tiger

It’s not unheard-of for an animal in a zoo to attack a visitor. It seems to happen a few times a year aroundZoo_sign
the world, sometimes with deadly consequences. But it usually happens when visitors put their hands — or even themselves — inside animal cages, perhaps trying to show the animals that humans are just like them: lacking intelligence.

In September 2005, a man put his hand inside a cage at a zoo in Shimla, India, to touch a bear, and the bear responded by saying, "Mmmm … food!"

In February, an animal lover entered a cheetah cage at a Belgium zoo and the cheetahs performed their own version of the 1967 classic Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.

Earlier this month, a 50-year-old man reached into a tiger cage at a zoo in Gauhati, India, a move that proved fatal. He was apparently trying to take a close-up photo, but it was the tigers, unfortunately, that got the last snap.

Such incidents underscore the importance of following the rules at a zoo. Under no circumstance should you put your hands inside a cage, even if the animal has an expression on its face that says, "Peace be with you, my friend. I’m a follower of Mahatma Gandhi!"

But visitors to a zoo never expect an animal to escape from a cage and attack them, as a Siberian tiger did on Christmas Day in San Francisco Zoo. The 350-pound tiger killed 17-year-old Carlos Sousa Jr. and seriously injured his friends, Paul and Kulbir Dhaliwal, aged 19 and 23.

The tiger is believed to have leaped over a wall that was 12½ feet high, about four feet shorter than what the Association of Zoos & Aquariums recommends for tiger enclosures. I never realized that tigers could jump that high and neither did the zookeepers apparently. Then again, if animals are anything like humans, a few of them are probably far more gifted than others. The average human wouldn’t be able to clear five feet in the high jump, whereas world record holder Javier Sotomayor of Cuba could easily clear Yao Ming. [video]

It’s been widely speculated that Sousa and the Dhaliwals taunted the tiger. If that’s the case, they may have messed with the wrong tiger. They may have messed with the Javier Sotomayor of tigers.

Photo by jemsweb

If you enjoyed this piece, you'll love Melvin's novel Bala Takes the Plunge, available in North America through Amazon.com and McNallyRobinson.com You can also find it at major bookstores in India and Sri Lanka or online at FlipKart, IndiaPlaza, FriendsofBooks or other sites. A number of readers have written reviews of the novel. An excerpt of the novel can be read here.

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