Should we be surprised when a wild animal behaves like a wild animal and attacks when provoked?

That is the question we need to ask when we consider the role zoos play in our lives on a moral and ethical level and we need to begin to wonder if raising wild animals in captivity is beneficial to the animal or if that process is only a money-making proposition where animals are used as entertainment.

Tatiana, a Siberian tiger born in the Denver Zoo, was a beautiful being in 2003 when she was a cub.

In 2005 Tatiana moved to the San Francisco Zoo where she continued to be held captive and grew into a 350-pound tiger of wild grace:

On Christmas day, Tatiana attacked. She killed one person and injured two others before she was shot dead by responding police. The San Francisco Chronicle reports today there is evidence Tatiana was taunted by those she attacked:

San Francisco police are investigating the possibility that one of the victims in the fatal tiger mauling on Christmas Day climbed over a waist-high fence and then dangled a leg or other body part over the edge of a moat that kept the big cat away from the public, sources close to the investigation said Wednesday. The minimal evidence found at the scene included a shoe and blood in an area between the gate and the edge of the 25- to 30-foot-wide moat, raising questions about what role, if any, the victims might have had in accidentally helping the animal escape.

The three victims, all young men from San Jose, were visiting the zoo together. They were all present just outside the tiger’s grotto when the tiger escaped, killed 17-year-old Carlos Sousa Jr. with a savage slash to the throat, and injured the other two. The names of the survivors, who are brothers ages 19 and 23, have not been released. The injured victims fled, leaving a trail of blood, which police believe the tiger followed for 300 yards up a zoo pathway. As the tiger cornered and attacked one of the brothers, four police officers arrived, distracted the animal and shot it dead.

Can we blame Tatiana for her death and the human deaths? Or must we blame the zoo entertainment system that took her wild life and required her imprisonment as a public performer?

In 2006, Tatiana provided hard evidence of her wild nature:

A 350-pound Siberian tiger named Tatiana attacked her keeper at the San Francisco Zoo during feeding time Friday afternoon as dozens of visitors looked on, causing deep lacerations to the keeper’s arms.

Tatiana was not killed in 2006 because, as one zoo official suggested, she was acting as a tiger is expected to act.

“We don’t know if there was any intent (to harm) on the tiger’s part,” Jenkins said. He said that it is not clear what will happen to Tatiana, but that it is “not normal procedure” to euthanize a big animal for this kind of behavior. The 3 1/2-year-old tiger arrived in San Francisco from the Denver Zoo on Dec. 16, 2005. Jenkins said she has no history of aggression toward humans.

Zoos are terrible places if you think about their purpose and intent. They are not preserving life. They are destroying life. If you really want to help and protect animals, help them in their native habitat, not in a manmade replacement. You go travel visit the tiger in the wild. Don’t expect the tiger to sit and wait for you in a zoo. Your convenience creates the ongoing death of an animal’s wild will. We only need to look back to 2003 and Roy Horn’s mauling in the mouth of a tiger he trained to see there is a history and a behavior of action when people expect wild animals to act human:

The tiger lunged at Horn’s neck about half-way through the show, and dragged him off stage, audience members said. “He looked like a rag doll in his mouth,” said Kirk Baser, from Pennsylvania.

Zoos try to claim to preserve and protect animals, but if you’ve ever visited a zoo, you can see in the animals’ eyes they wish to be elsewhere and they yearn for the freedom you enjoy.

For over 200 years tigers have been kept in captivity in European zoos and for over 100 years in American zoos,” Tilson said. “No tiger has ever escaped from its enclosure . . . except by human error.”

… Asked why the animal was not put down after she attacked a zookeeper last year in the tigers’ adjacent feeding area, Mollinedo said: “There was never consideration of putting Tatiana down. The tiger was acting like a normal tiger does.” … Tigers are regarded as among the most fearsome, instinctual hunters in the animal world. “Tigers are alpha predators. They kill and eat animals for food,” said Tilson, “including humans.”

Why do we cage tigers if not for our own, selfish, enjoyment? Why are we surprised when a taunted and provoked animal fights back? Was shooting Tatiana dead the only way to end the danger? Were no tranquilizer guns available? Tatiana never asked for her life or wanted her death. Who will weep for Tatiana?

I will weep for Tatiana.


  1. Count me in on the weepers.
    Zoos are like the arenas of ancient times, and worse – many people think they’re doing the animals a service through their captivity.
    There are of course certain ‘benefits’ – one of which wouldn’t exist if people didn’t hunt certain animals for sport / rare animal body parts – being that certain zoos have prevented extinction through their efforts. It wouldn’t have been necessary, naturally, had people not been greedy enough to want to sell those parts for blood soaked gold.

  2. I am honored to have your tears, Gordon!
    Yes, zoos are some kind of awful experiment gone awry. Sure, they claim to be saving species, but they’re really about entertainment and collecting big donations and charging money.
    Zoos are landed, static, circuses set up for the moneyed and the privileged to gawk and ahhh over captive animals.
    If you look at any of the “Safari” films from the 1920’s and ’30’s — they are heartbreaking. The hunters taunt the tigers and lions and elephants to they’ll charge and they can then make an easy and “justified” killing shot with a long gun. Watching an animal killed in that manner is truly breathtaking in the most awful way.

  3. David, I have always been a strong advocate of freedom to animals and I think Tatiana was merely acting on her instint as a wild animal. Captive animals, at least to my thinking, should be done only when there are no other ways of protecting them from danger and not for human amusement. Thats why I stopped going to the zoos or circus.

  4. Hi Hanie!
    Oh, I am so happy to hear you are an animal lover, too.
    You are right that Tatiana was reacting to a taunting in a zoo just as should would in the wild. We cannot blame her for her animal instinct. In a zoo, they certainly have tranquilizers that could’ve been used instead of live bullets in her body.
    I respect Roy Horn for not killing his tiger. He said, as he was being taken to the hospital, not to kill the tiger. It was later discovered that the tiger likely thought Roy was in danger on stage and she reacted as she would to save her own cub: Bite the neck and drag to safety.
    Roy knew that her intent was good because, he reasoned, if she was trying to kill him, she would’ve done that behavior in a completely different way. Roy let her live even though she nearly killed him.
    I do not attend zoos, either. I did as a child, though. I was always struck by the animals’ unhappiness.
    In many major USA cities with big zoos, they serve as the domain for the rich and powerful. The zoos are fundraising machines and they are the perfect playground for the rich to celebrate and to raise money for the poor. Ugh.
    Circuses are even more dishonorable than zoos:

  5. David, I grew up with plenty of wild animals around me. One thing I learnt was, these animals will never lose their jungle instincts.
    I read of Roy and Montecore, how he defended his Bengal tiger. Reminds me on how my own civet cat, named Mushy (of Rawhide fame) bit my fingers. I needed several stitches at the hospital. Why? I playfully tugged at her fried chicken while she was eating.
    Was it her fault? Nope, it was entirely my own.
    I hate to see whats behind the url you posted, David, so I will take my time before I gather up my guts to click on it.

  6. Hey David, btw, just when I was about to click on the ‘submit” button earlier, I realised your head banner was a nightscape of KL . Or was my eyes played tricks on me? It flashed by so quickly.

  7. While I am upset for the death of this tiger I do think that the police did what they had to. They are charged with keeping safe people. At that point in the process what other choice did they have? Maybe much more could have been done to ensure it did not get to that point, like not having zoo’s as suggested, lets just remember the police in question just did their job and we need to thank them for keeping us safe.

  8. Hanie —
    You’re lucky you were exposed to wild animals in your youth. You inherently know of their danger and beauty and power. Don’t bother them and they generally won’t bother you.
    That is an important lesson you learned! People even tease their domesticated cats and dogs and end up getting bitten and they wonder why…
    That URL in itself is okay, Hanie. It’s a PETA site that provides insider information and pictures on circus cruelty. You can click and look around without seeing anything disturbing. You’ll have to dig deeper into the site to get the really shocking stuff.

  9. Hanie!
    I love it that you look at the header! I paid a lot of money for their use here. 😀
    Yes, you saw KL! There are shots of urban images from across the world. Even a few from Iraq! I’m so glad you noticed! If you keep forcing a new refresh of the page you should get a new header image…

  10. curtis —
    They’re in a zoo. With zoo workers. Why wasn’t there a coordinated effort to work with the zoo to hunt down the tiger? Why is the first instinct to shoot first and wonder later?
    I blame the zoo more than I do the police.
    Now a larger question is this: If you taunt a tiger in its den — should you expect to be hunted down and killed by that tiger in an evolutionary and genetic response to your taunting?
    Does one tempt fate and earn death with cruel behavior?

  11. Hi David,
    I feel sorry for the poor creature – a victim of our “wild will” to tame the “wild animal”.
    Animals act instinctively; it is interesting when we do the same instead of using our rationale.

  12. Right on, Katha!
    I share your sentimentality.
    Now news reports are claiming the zoo master says Tatiana’s “wall was too low” and that was the reason for her escape.
    We, who think on our own, know there isn’t such a thing as a coincidence and that a wall that kept Tatiana in place for four years doesn’t suddenly become “lower” without some sort of provocation or taunting that challenges her to test a wall she never before considered.
    This is all about blaming Tatiana and letting the survivors live in peace without being vilified after they recover.

  13. I am weeping for poor Tatiana, she acted like a tiger does and died for it. A beautiful, endangered wild animal is gone far too soon.
    I have never understood why people think putting wild animals in zoos is a good thing, it’s only for our entertainment and to make money. Is anyone thinking about how miserable these animals are in captivity? Look at the picture of where Tatiana had to live, does that resemble anything near freedom?
    Wild animals are meant to be free in the wild, not in some enclosure for our amusement. Every time I see animals in a zoo I feel sorry for them, I know in my heart they do not want to be there.
    It is a terrible thing that a teen died and 2 others were injured, but I hope the stories that they taunted her are not true. If so, what can you say about her coming after them? She would have been acting like a tiger does. A tiger’s instinct is to kill, to them, we look like any other prey they would hunt.
    I love big cats, all cats, always have, but I understand big cats are wild animals and would kill me as easily as they would a deer if I happened upon one in the wild or taunted one trapped in a zoo.
    Poor Tatiana, rest in peace, you were a beautiful, wild tiger.

  14. Thank you for sharing your kind and warm thoughts with us, linda, about Tatiana’s unfortunate demise.
    You’re right her home at the zoo looks like a concrete swimming pool with dead grass pretending to be the wilds.
    How we treat animals determines how we treat each other.
    As Count Leo Tolstoy — a vegetarian — said, “As long as there are slaughterhouses, there will always be war.”

  15. Hi David,
    Glad you have a place for Tatiana sympathizers. My immediate reaction to this story was to the picture of Tatiana and the tragedy of the loss of this beautiful animal. Obviously no one knows what happened. Hopefully the two brothers will cough up the story and we’ll know. But it is easy to speculate that the guys were taunting the tiger. If so, well, what happened was a perfectly natural event. I used to have a couple of samoyeds and squirrels in the trees would taunt them and throw nuts. Hours of entertainment. But heaven help the squirrels if one of the dogs had caught them… Thanks again. Condolences to the Sousa family and to the heartbrokenTatiana fans/friends.

  16. Thanks for the insightful comment, thailandjohn. Yes, I weep and feel for Tatiana, especially after seeing her bright spirit as a cub in the first image in this article. She was full of fire and life then and now when you look at her as an adult you can see some of that spitting delight was stripped from her.
    No animals should be taunted in any way. People who taunt other people are called bullies but when people taunt animals people think it’s funny.
    Unfortunately, one of the most popular shows here in the USA is one that shows “funny” home videos and 90% of the videos shown are those of animals in distress set to a laugh track. That kind of mainstream demoralization of animals as entertainment objects gives people clues and hints on how to treat animals in real life.

  17. Hi all…
    Couple more comments.
    First on the anti-zoo front. Well, in an ideal world there’d be no zoos. But I would be willing to bet that the majority of anti-zoo posters were raised on zoos. There is something about seeing these animals in the flesh, in captivity that strikes the heart in a way that no Animal Planet or Nat Geo show will ever do. By seeing animals this way, an entire generation of conservationists was born. Further, I take issue with the comment that zoos are for the privileged. Poor, inner city, and just plain folk go to the zoo. They see these animals and are educated about their plight. Ironically, the suggestion that they should only be seen by people who can afford to fly to the natural habitat–well that would really limit exposure to the rich. Because of exposure at zoos (at least in part) you have a wide swath of people very interested in seeing these species preserved in the wild…
    Not a zoo fan, but a realist.

  18. Living at the bottom of Africa, I stumbled across this story online only today and am weeping at my desk for that beautiful rare cat so needlessly killed. (It’s quite embarrassing, really). Thank you for writing such a considerate piece in a sea of Internet news stories about mourning for the “victim” — obviously this is supposed to be the person she, quite naturally, killed, though he was quite possibly doing something idiotic at the time. I know who the real victim was. It makes me sick how human lives are (officially, though often not in practise) so revered while animals are poked with sticks and then forgotten (unless they act up) or eaten by most.
    I am not, however, sold on the inherent evil of zoos that many people here have written about. Have you, David, read Yann Martel’s Life of Pi? His main character makes quite an interesting argument about the stressful lives of animals in the wild and of the relief that zoos offer — in terms of safety from predators (uinless those predators are cops with guns, obviously) and guaranteed food. Quite frankly, I’m not sure where I sit now but it does provide food for thought. And the worst things about zoos in my experience is the idiots who visit them to toss things at the animals or lift their kids up so they can tap on the glass etc. In other words, zoos would be much less afwul it they would just not let people in — or at least make greater efforts to inculcate the notion that these are living, feeling beings. Lord, will we ever evolve?
    As for the comment that you can see in the animal’s eyes that they wish to be elsewhere, ever heard the word “projection”? Do animals have ambitions beyond basic issues of where their next meal is coming from? I love them all, but I’m not so sure they fantasise about being elsewhere if they’re not experiencing actual pain.
    What puzzles me about some postings here is the implication that if she hadn’t been in a zoo, she would have been running free in some Disney-esque version of the wild somewhere. Tatiana was born in captivity, and so this would never have been an option for her. And even if she had been born in the wild, given the tortures her ilk frequently suffer at the hands of third-world poachers — days-long deaths in dirty traps, only to be skinned and have their teeth ripped out — she might herself have picked the sleepy fatcat existence she led at the zoo, perhaps a necessary evil in an evil world. No, they are not ideal, but with their numbers dwindling so terribly in the wild, what do we do? I have no idea, but I’m not sure zoos are lucrative enough to support the idea that they are all about entertaining the rich and reaping the profits. That’s a bit extreme, isn’t it?
    It’s also quite rich to me how many people go on and on about the atrocities of zoos, while they stand there in their leather shoes with a hotdog in one hand. Wanna talk atrocities?
    Anyway, most of this is beyond the point. The point really — if the “people-huggers” among you will forgive my irreverence — is that there is one less beautiful creature in the world, and one less drunken fool, and we damn the creature and mourn the fool.
    Tatiana, I hope there’s a heaven for you.

  19. I am extremely upset about the shooting of this magnificent creature. Tatiana is the victim.

  20. Thanks for the comment, thailandjohn. Sure, zoos allow poor kids to attend, but zoos rely on private money and charity funding to stay alive today and so their ongoing mission is to impress the powerful and the wealthy and to serve their private needs.

  21. jeamer —
    I am Vegan. I have a long history of service to animals here and in my real life. I do not wear leather shoes. I was not projecting. I realize few people are able to make a connection with an animal on their level — but don’t disparage what do you not understand.

  22. Thanks for your warm thoughts, jevaki — it is through strong comments like yours that Tatiana will continue to live in our thoughts have have power beyond her grave.

  23. Dear David,
    I’m sorry you read my comment as disparaging. I honestly never intended it as such. I just don’t think the zoo issue is all that black and white. Yes, I know you’re a vegan and obviously an animal lover or you wouldn’t have written that beautiful piece in the first place. The leather shoes issue was not about you, but about “many people”… people I encounter every day. Anyway, my message to you was meant to be one of congratulations and thanks for your efforts and I’m sorry it seems to have mutated. Peace.

  24. UPDATE:
    Here’s a response I received from Jack Hanna’s office:

    Dear David,
    Thank you for writing to Jack regarding the tragedy in San Francisco. Jack sincerely appreciates your support, thoughts, and suggestions during this difficult time.
    Zoos are dedicated to educating the public about the delicate balance that exists between living creatures and their environments. Animals living in these facilities are not domesticated and can do unpredictable things. We are grieving the loss of both human and animal life. As the investigation continues, we are sure there will be new details that shed light on the situation.
    This tragedy has thrown zoos into the national spotlight. As a member of the conservation community, Jack tried to use his years of experience to comment on this set of circumstances. There is not perfect answer or solution to this situation. In the meantime, please continue to support your local zoos. They work day and night to make their facilities safe for both animals and humans.
    Our hope for the New Year is that humans can learn to coexist peacefully with animals throughout the world.
    Take care,
    Jack Hanna’s Office

  25. I weep for Tatiana too. But frankly, she is better off dead than living in a zoo. There are times when I hate our (Man’s) arrogance. This is an example of why.

  26. Wowser, natzgal! That is a dynamic argument: Tatiana is better off dead than being forced to live captive in a zoo. I admire the passion of your thoughts and I agree with you. Zoos certainly are an example of arrogance: We know better than the animals how they should live and behave and be treated. That’s rich, really, if it just wasn’t so incredibly sad.

  27. Hi David….yes, I can be passionate 😉
    Although, usually, I have more ambiguous feelings because I can see many, often opposing, viewpoints at the same time. This has been quite a challenge for me. So when a passionate response comes forth, I kind of surprise myself 🙂
    I didn’t explain my response though.
    Yes, sometimes death can be a sweet release from suffering.
    But in the case of Tatiana, I meant my response more from the angle of this… Tatiana died doing what tigers do. She was being who she was meant to be. IMO that had to be more satisfying to her than being held captive for countless boring numbers of years. Having those few moments of freedom was worth the price. RIP Tatiana.

  28. Natz sent me a link to your site. Thanks for the compliment on my post about my recent visit to the zoo.
    Like you, it drives me insane when I see people trying to feed animals at zoos, this was not the first time I’ve stopped someone.
    I generally can’t stand the idea of an animal being kept in captivity, but if it has to be, the conditions it lives in have to be comfortable IMO.
    As for your comment about native habitat, there are loads of Nature Reserves where I live (in SA), and not all of them provide the comfort that some of the zoos do. So, it depends again, how that native habitat is preserved.

  29. It is great to meet you jenty, and I appreciate your comment. Welcome to Urban Semiotic!
    We have a lot of “petting zoos” here in the USA focused on children where the whole idea is to interact with farm animals and feed them from your hand.
    Can you imagine the confusion on both sides when visiting a “realer” zoo where a penned wild animal might rip off your arm for the wrong reaching in the offering up of food from a palm… or a palm that is seen as food?

  30. UPDATE:
    Here we go!

    (01-04) 19:38 PST SAN FRANCISCO — Soon after their 17-year-old friend was mauled to death by a tiger at the San Francisco Zoo, the two brothers who survived the attack made a quick pact not to cooperate with the police as they rode in an ambulance to the hospital, sources told The Chronicle.
    “Don’t tell them what we did,” paramedics heard 23-year-old Kulbir Dhaliwal tell his brother, Paul, 19.
    Sources also say that the younger brother was intoxicated at the time of the incident, having used marijuana and consumed enough liquor to have a blood-alcohol level above the .08 limit for adult drivers. The older brother also had been drinking and using marijuana around the time a 350-pound Siberian tiger escaped and killed Carlos Sousa Jr., the sources said.

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