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"Do they make good pets?" - Phil's Rambling Rants — LiveJournal
September 17th, 2006
09:43 pm


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"Do they make good pets?"
Just as I was leaving EFRC today, a Girl Scout troop was finishing their tour, and Jean was giving them a short lecture in response to the leader asking for a statement about whether exotic cats make good pets.  Jean explained how they are wild animals, and never completely safe.  It was one of those answers that our society gives to children when they don't think the children are ready for the complexity of the real answer, which bothered me a little bit, but I guess it's necessary.  But I got to thinking about how to give a more nuanced answer to an adult, and this analogy popped into my head.

Think of owning a domestic cat as like having a car.  It requires some care and responsibility, but most people can manage it OK.  Having a small cat like a bobcat or a serval as a house pet is like having a private plane like a Cessna.  It costs a lot more than a car, it requires special knowledge and training, and it's not really practical all the time -- but it does get you something that a car doesn't, and fairly ordinary people can be successful at it if they work hard.

A pet tiger is like having your own F16.  It's insanely expensive, and in addition to a much higher level of special knowledge and training, it requires innate qualities that a lot of people don't have, and it tends to give your neighbors and the government the heebie geebies.  Very definitely not a good choice for the ordinary person -- but there are a few people who could do it.  It might kill them in the end, but to them, it's worth it.

As a final touch to the analogy, having the exotic cat but just keeping it in a cage all the time, never interacting with it hands-on, is a little like owning the plane but never having it out of the hangar -- it's a shameful waste, but it's where you'll end up if you get the cat before you learn how to "fly" it.

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Date:September 18th, 2006 06:13 pm (UTC)

Tigers and stuff

Something I've been wondering about for some time involves the fact that over the last few years I have read news stories two or three times of human beings being mauled and either killed or severely wounded by tigers here in the United States, always in situations that sound a whole lot like reasonable spots for tigers to live -- privately owned wildlife preserves, more often than not. My question for you is: How does one tell the difference between people who are at risk for being mauled by tigers, and people who are not at risk. And how can one ever know that one is absolutely safe, if one deals with tigers and other wild cats on a regular basis?

By the way, I looked up "lions" on wikipedia. It was an utterly marvelous detailed article, and I suspect you'd enjoy it. There was some data on ligers and tigons -- apparently 1/4 of these offspring (am I referring to female ligers? Not sure) actually are fertile, although obviously the serious breeders are trying to keep individual subgroups alive rather than trying to perpetuate the genes by mating everybody with everybody else. I was croggled to realize that, under extremely unlikely circumstances (perhaps the director of a zoo stealing some of his zoo's wild cats and abandoning them in Africa, without anybody knowing he/she had done so -- and of course this would never really happen), there would wind up being cats running around Africa that were 1/4 or 1/8 tiger, the rest lion. It would be great for genetic diversity, at least.... Perhaps today I'll look up "tiger" and "jaguar" -- have already looked up "cheetah."

By the way, had you heard that Louie and I will (as far as I know) be doing a house concert in Milwaukee on Saturday, October 7?

Nate B.
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Date:September 18th, 2006 09:47 pm (UTC)

Re: Tigers and stuff

One can never be absolutely safe. This is true of life in general, not just of working with dangerous animals. In the news right now, if you eat spinach you could be at risk of E.coli poisoning -- but if you don't eat spinach you could be at risk of poor nutrition.

Putting oneself into a position where there is no barrier between one and a tiger is always dangerous, but most of the incidents you hear about on the news are cases where the person who got hurt did not intend to be in that situation (they did not know the cat was there, or a gate was left open, or a cage was not locked, or someone else did not know the person was there and let the cat out). Deliberately going in with a tiger is dangerous, but as long as the person doing it knows enough to make an informed choice, it's not out of line with other "extreme" sports. There's a skydiving convention in a town near me every year, and it seems like every year somebody dies. People die all the time in mountain climbing accidents. Hordes of people drown every year, and most of them were in the water for fun. So the real question is not whether it's absolutely safe, but whether the person doing it knows the risk and accepts it.

In my case, I don't go in with the tigers I take care of. I don't have the training, and I don't have a deep enough personal relationship with them. That doesn't mean I'm completely safe; I or someone else could make one big mistake or a series of small ones, and I could get unlucky at the same time. But I think I'm probably more at risk of dying in an auto accident on my 180-mile round trip than of being killed by a tiger any given weekend, so I do my best to be careful, but I don't fret over the risk.

By the way, had you heard that Louie and I will (as far as I know) be doing a house concert in Milwaukee on Saturday, October 7?

I had not heard, or if I had it did not stick in my memory. Thanks for the heads-up. I'm not sure I'll be able to make it, but if I didn't hear about it until the week of Oct. 1, I definitely would not make it. Are you and Louie interested in visiting <a href="http://www.votk.org>Valley of the Kings</a>? If I am there for the weekend I would be willing to take you there. (Their policy is that you can't visit unless you're already a member -- no buying memberships at the gate -- and membership is expensive. But a member (i.e., me) can bring up to 3 guests, as long as they fit in one car (parking is extremely tight).)
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Date:September 19th, 2006 08:27 pm (UTC)

Re: Tigers and stuff

DAMN LJ! The above comment, as I typed it, asked if you wanted to visit Valley of the Kings, but for some reason it didn't like the hyperlink, and instead of giving me a freakin' error message, it just hosed my entry.
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