Jocelyn's Other Desk

The writings of Jocelyn Smith, aspiring author, soon-to-be lawyer, once and future politician, all-around opinionated twentysomething.

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Location: Orlando, Florida, United States

I'm a lawyer in Florida, working on three novels, a screenplay, and half a dozen pieces of fanfiction at any given moment.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005


So I made yet another Renaissance Faire excursion this weekend, this one to King Richard's Faire in Boston whilst visiting with friends. Along with drenching rain, cold temperatures, mushrooms growing in the haybales and roving bands of ducks, a definite discussion point of the trip was Tale of the Tiger.

On the right is one of their stars: a golden tabby tiger, the rarest variety of big cat in the world. But as much as I enjoyed seeing the tigers and the leopards, and as much as I love big cats...the whole thing left me uncomfortable.

The reason is that I am firmly of the belief that using large wild animals like big cats as "animal actors" (as they're called by the group that performed at Faire) is an incredibly bad idea. The painful thing about it as that, as a die-hard cat lover (no pun intended) I am well aware of the attraction to these animals, the desire to touch them and see them play and romp--and to play and romp with them.

But it's that playfulness, those inherent feline qualities that big cats share so adorably with their little domestic counterparts, that makes big cats so incredibly dangerous.

I posted this sad case in point to my livejournal as well--the story that made me finally decide firmly against the idea of trying to train tigers and lions, be it for the circus or petting zoos.

When my sister was in her early teens, she performed in The Little Match Girl with the Gainesville Ballet Theatre back in Florida. In the first year she was on the cast, they had an elephant onstage at one point. The second year, it was a tiger.

The company hired a local group called The Cat Dancers to bring their young white Bengal tiger, Jupiter, onstage. Everything went beautifully--Jupiter was still a cub, but the size of a pit bull. Everyone adored him. Such a beautiful animal. He stole the show in that first act. The Cat Dancers were a trio of trainers, a husband and wife team, and another trainer.

Barely three years later, it all went horribly wrong.

The details remain murky, and the article posted above paints Jupiter as some kind of monster. But anyone who knows anything at all about wild animals knows that they are not vicious creatures. They are simply wild. Meaning not domestic. Meaning no matter how much training they receive, how much love and affection, their predator instincts never leave.

In Jupiter's case, it was one of those ornery feline moments that struck--with several hundred pounds of muscle behind it. Where a domestic cat gets cranky and takes a swipe or a bite out of his owner and might require stitches...tigers are capable of the same sudden mood shifts.

From what we heard in Gainesville (the Cat Dancers and Jupiter lived in Newberry, a small town to the west), there had been some kind of construction or work going on near Jupiter's holding area that upset him. When one of the trainers went into the pen to take Jupiter out, he jumped on the man and killed him. The Cat Dancers and those who knew them were heartbroken, but they decided not to put Jupiter down.

Six weeks later, one of his other owners, a lady who had been onstage with him back in The Little Match Girl, went to visit and feed him. She had reportedly been deeply depressed after her fellow trainer's death, lost weight, and uncertain about the group's future. No doubt Jupiter, with those uncanny feline instincts that cat owners know all too well, realized that something was not right with his "mother." He bit her on the neck and killed her.

The last remaining Cat Dancer, the husband, had witnessed both attacks, seeing his wife and fellow trainer killed by the beautiful animal they had raised since he was six days old. When the Alachua County Sheriff's SWAT team arrived, he gave permission for them to shoot Jupiter.

Thus ended three innocent lives.

We've all heard of the fate of Siegfried & Roy, when one of the famous duo fell afoul with his trained tiger. They argued that the tiger was just trying to "protect" Roy. Knowing cats and their instincts, it's entirely true. But where a cat or a tiger can lift their young by the neck without hurting it, it nearly killed a human being.

Conservation and preservation of these beautiful animals should be continued in every way possibly. They are not monsters. They are creatures of instinct, not cruelty. But wild animals are also not toys, nor will they ever be pets.

I sympathize deeply with the Cat Dancers and other trainers and animal performers because, as a cat lover, I feel that desire to caress and cuddle with a "giant kitty." And maybe I could...for a time. But it's all too likely that the animal who loves and is loved by his human trainer could kill her--most certainly by accident. But they are simply too large, too powerful, and too untameable to ever be handled safely by human beings. And in the end, we must all accept that.

We should enjoy them and love them from a distance, keep them growing and breeding so future generations can see and marvel at them. But let them be.


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