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Sunday, June 9, 2013

From the News: Pet Lions in Kabul

The $20,000 pet lion that lives on a Kabul rooftop

Over the course of my zoo career, I've gotten the opportunity to work with all eight of the big cat species.  Three (lion, leopard, snow leopard) have been as a volunteer, the other five (tiger, jaguar, puma, cheetah, and clouded leopard) were as a paid keeper; I've also worked with six of the smaller cats.  Each of these cats have, in their own way, been inspiring to work with. I've loved going to work with them every day.  And I've never EVER wanted to go home to one.

I once heard a comment to the effect of, "Make a dog 10 times bigger, and it still wants to play catch.  Make a cat 10 times bigger and it wants to &$*(%(@ eat you."  When I took care of these big cats, I went into the enclosures with cheetahs and clouded leopards.  The others... never.  Some of these cats had been wild born and orphaned.  Others had been hand-reared as pets before being turned over to a zoo.  If I'd gone into a enclosure with a lion or tiger, jaguar or leopard, I doubt that I would have come out alive... or at least with as many body parts as I'd gone in with.

You see, to me this seems obvious.  That being said, it's amazing how many morons I meet at work every day who coo at the cats and talk - seriously - about how they'd love to have one.  In some states, this is perfectly legal.  Many visitors fail to understand that a big cat, even a well-fed one (and keeping a big cat well-fed is an expensive operation) is still a very dangerous animal, not a big striped-or-spotted kitty.

This guy in Kabul may like his pet now.  Maybe he'll be okay for a month, maybe he'll be very lucky and nothing will ever happen.  But every twit who keeps a big cat as a personal pet just encourages others to do the same.  The more people with big cats - or venomous snakes, or non-human primates, or other "pets" - the more likely someone is to get hurt.  Or worse...

PS:  Looking back at this entry, I realize that I focused far too heavily on the negative consequences for HUMANS keeping an exotic pet.  This is a bad habit that I got into when I realized that people were much more likely to do the right thing regarding animals when I told them what was in it for them (as helping animals never strikes some people as a worthwhile activity by itself).  Here is the other side of the coin: how wild animals suffer from being kept in the pet trade:

Illegal Wildlife Trade Flourishes in Sumatra

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