Saber the Tiger
Saber the Tiger
Did you ever meet someone and from the minute you first met them you felt like you had known them your entire life? That is the way it was the day I first met Saber the tiger. He was 17 years old the day he retired from the circus to Big Cat Rescue in 2002. He was in the second group of tigers to come from the circus. The first group had arrived in 2000 because the circus was no longer going to “be in the cat business.” As public awareness has increased about how much we have in common with animals, it has become more and more incomprehensible that creatures as magnificent as tigers should be used to for our amusement. This shift in perception would mean freedom from life on the road in box cars and tractor trailers.
It meant everything in the world to Saber, who proudly strode out into his grassy, shady, lakeside digs. As he walked toward me, eyes gently fixed on mine; I stood frozen in the admiration of him. When a big cat looks you directly in the eyes, it usually means that you are about to be killed, but it was apparent that his eyes were saying, “Hello, my old friend.” He wanted me to know, from the very first second that he arrived, that there was a reason he was here and that I needed to pay attention.
|“Performing cats usually have ragged ears from years of being beaten up by their cage mates in the ring.”|
Trying to shake off the spell of his captivating gaze, I wondered if I was just enamored with his flawless beauty. He was the most perfect tiger I had ever laid eyes on. He was small, but powerful and his ears were without mar. Performing cats usually have ragged ears from years of being beaten up by their cage mates in the ring. Tigers are solitary in the wild and would never share such tight quarters with others. There is always a level of tension in these animals that have been used this way, and the scars to prove the assumption.
Saber’s ruff was fluffy, giving him a teddy bear face, but his grace and confidence portrayed an animal so regal that the other cats must have yielded to his presence. It was working on me. From this day forward all Saber would ever know would be love and respect. He would have the best that we could provide him…but he was demanding more. He was not going to let me break from the trance without knowing that much more would be required of me.
|“It had to be the end of an era where animals like Saber were used as props. “|
This had to be an end. It had to be the end of an era where animals like Saber were used as props. We had been trying to effect change through education, but had only recently begun to get politically active. The first congressional bill that we had set out to see made into law was the Captive Wild Animal Safety Act. It made it illegal to sell big cats, across state lines as pets and was signed into law in December 2003.
I had begun to track the number of big cats who were being dumped in 1999 and as you can see from the chart the numbers were escalating until this bill became law:
The numbers of big cats who were ending up homeless did not begin to decrease until after this bill became law. It was then and there that I knew what Saber had been trying to tell me. We had been educating people about why these animals should not be bred in captivity, used in performances or kept as pets since 1997, but it was legislation that caused the abusive practices to decline, and with that drop in abuse, came the decrease in abandonment.
Today, August 1, 2007, it had rained all day when I went out to check on my old friend Saber the tiger. After a long drought, the rain is welcome, but even more so today to help hide the fact that tears stream down my face. At the age of 22, Saber is slipping away from us and it makes us all feel sad.
A natural death is a slow process and painful to witness. We have seen it time and again over the years, but it is always hard to let nature take its course. As long as the cat is in good spirits and continues to eat and enjoy life we watch them virtually disappear before our eyes. Something changes in their bodies as they continue to eat the same as before, but begin to waste away to skin and bones. We always go through the diagnostics and in Saber’s case more than usual because of suspicious lumps that were thought to be cancer. They sleep most of their days away in the end, and their gait is slowed when they do get up for dinner. We watch them closely to determine when the time to intercede arrives, and each cat lets us know when they are ready.
Our staff has been watching him closely and reporting to me by phone while I was in Washington the past week. They didn’t think Saber was ready to go yet, but we all know it won’t be long, and by the time you read this, he will surely have passed on. I was glad to have this chance to come and make a final report to Saber on the work he had initiated back in 2002. There had been many successes in the legislative arena and this past month had been particularly productive.
I told him about Governor Crist signing the Python Bill into law on July 2, 2007. Saber knew from our previous discussions that the Python Bill carried a clause in it that would require people who display big cats in Florida to carry 2 million dollars in liability insurance or, at least, post a $10,000 bond with the state in case someone gets hurt or the animal ends up being abandoned.
It costs about $7,500 a year to properly care for just one tiger, so anyone who wants to have one as a pet by calling themselves an educator, will now have to be held accountable financially. That will keep an awful lot of people from foolishly going out and buying a tiger cub. It will also make people think twice before they let some photo booth operator dump last year’s babies on them. If people who make a living off the babies can’t sell them and can’t give them away then they will have to stop breeding them. Some of these charlatans are using and then killing the cubs, according to the testimony of one big cat vet in Florida, but the public won’t stand for that once it is exposed.
I silently spoke with Saber, heart to heart, as I didn’t want to wake him. He was sleeping peacefully on the soft earthen bed inside his massive cave. An overhang of leafy branches provided a dry spot just outside his den and it was there that one massive foot was propped up on the lip of the opening to the cave and his big, sleepy head emerged from the darkness to rest. It was obvious that he had fallen asleep here while watching the rain feed the lush green landscape that surrounds him.
|“…ripped from their mothers, used a brief time and discarded.”|
Silently I relayed the work of the past week in Washington, DC and told Saber about testifying at a committee briefing for Haley’s Act. I had shared the stories of some of the cats here to the staffers so they would understand why this bill to ban contact with big cats and their cubs was not only about human safety, but also to prevent cruelty to the cubs who are ripped from their mothers, used a brief time and discarded. I told him about Howie, Susan and I all going door to door in the Senate handing out packets to illustrate that the only time the killings, maulings and escapes cease is when a state enacts a ban on the possession of big cats. States, like Florida, who merely regulate it, continue to see an increase in incidents because there is never enough money to regulate the industry.
Those golden orbs of his, that mesmerize me so, were flickering behind shuttered eyelids. I wondered what dreams he has these days? Does he relive a past of being made to perform and being dominated by a man in a sequined leotard who carries a whip? Does he flinch in his sleep, when he dared not flinch in view of his comrades for fear of their attack? Do the toes quiver from the terror of the past or from his memories of frolicking here at Big Cat Rescue where he has been safe and loved? Or is he dreaming of a life where all animals are safe and loved that his eyes flutter with anticipation?
It reminds me of the closing lines in the story, Black Beauty, “…I shall never be sold, and so I have nothing to fear; and here my story ends. My troubles are all over, and I am at home.”
August 1, 2007 Carole Baskin
If Saber touched your heart today, take a few minutes and show him that you got the message and will pass it on by sending a letter to your lawmaker asking for better protection for the cats here: www.CatLaws.com
A week after being able to share our wins with Saber, the big cats suffered some bad set backs as a result of the FWC staff being given bad advice from their Captive Wild Animal Technical Assistance Group. I am glad Saber didn’t have to know about this.