Who is smarter; a tiger or an elephant?
Ron Kagan, director of the Detroit Zoo, in a recent CNN Morgan Spurlock piece, that did a good job of raising the question as to whether zoos should exist, said when people come to a zoo they should expect to see animals “thriving.” Good term. Some years back Kagan made a very forward thinking and controversial decision. He decided zoos simply cannot provide a thriving humane home for elephants. They need to roam large areas and graze to be happy. He sent their two elephants to PAWS sanctuary in California. There is slowly growing acceptance that his view is correct.
We don’t think tigers should be in zoos for somewhat similar reasons. You see the tiger out in a spacious area. But at night they lock them up in “night houses,” typically small concrete cells. These are nocturnal animals. We do a night tour once a month at BCR. The animals are all up and about. Sometimes the zoos rotate them, so the tiger spends days in the concrete cell before it again gets out into the display area.
So is it any less cruel to keep tigers in cages than elephants?
They both roam the same areas, measured in miles, not acres or square feet, in the wild.
Elephants will let you ride them. Tigers will not.
Elephants operate in a herd to survive. Tigers do not.
Elephants require these herds for raising their single young offspring. Tiger moms do it alone; raising up to four cubs at a time.
Elephants have far more ability, due to their size and tough skin to ride out an attack on a human to affect their escape, and yet tigers escape far more often.
Elephants are grazers, so it doesn’t take a lot of mental agility to push down a tree and eat it. Tigers have to outwit their prey because their prey is faster and has the benefit of being in a herd where there are many individuals on the lookout for danger.
Don’t get me wrong. Elephants are amazing creatures and we can only begin to fathom the extent of their mental and emotional capacity.
There are those exhibitors who argue tigers are happier in cages where they get fed regularly and don’t have to deal with the challenges in the wild. This is idiotic. First, it is like saying you would rather be in prison than free because you would not have to work and you are assured meals and shelter. My better answer is this. If you want to see if they would rather live in a cage than be free, open the door and see what happens.