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Statement on Tiger Mauling at San Francisco Zoo

Published 12/27/07

News of the fatal mauling by a tiger at the San Francisco Zoo has made headlines around the world, igniting a much-needed debate about the future of wild animals in captivity.

"At this time our hearts go out to the victims and their families, but this Christmas tragedy should give us all pause for thought," said Adam Roberts, Senior Vice President of Born Free USA united with Animal Protection Institute, an advocacy group at the forefront of efforts to keep wildlife in the wild.

"There are, of course, many outstanding questions that need to be answered, and we will carefully review the report of the police investigation at the zoo,” Roberts continued.

"But this raises many important wider issues. What conservation value does the keeping of thousands of wild tigers in zoos, circuses and by private individuals as ‘pets’ actually deliver to a species that is facing catastrophic decline in its natural habitat and needs urgent protection in the wild? There are too many species kept unnaturally in captivity — including predators that have attacked people in facilities from coast to coast across America. This is not real conservation.”

Born Free USA united with API is calling for a national debate on the efficacy of keeping wild animals in captivity for public display and entertainment. This examination should include:

  • an immediate safety review for all facilities, private and public, holding dangerous animals,
  • an analysis of the Animal Welfare Act and all state laws to identify animal welfare and human safety deficiencies, and
  • a thorough examination of the thousands of licensed animal exhibitors to determine which facilities should be immediately closed down based on substandard animal welfare conditions or heightened risk to human visitors.

“The situation with big cats in captivity is desperate” added Born Free USA Senior Vice President and General Counsel, Nicole Paquette. “Since 1995, there have been more than 100 injuries or deaths to humans from large cats kept in zoos, circuses, or by exotic pet owners ... and these are just the ones we know about, the ones that get reported."

Born Free USA is calling on all levels of government to review their own laws on the issue and introduce legislation in 2008 to address the problem areas.

Zoos often claim that they are educational but, as reported today on Good Morning America, the evidence is unconvincing. Speaking on the show opposite Jack Hanna from the Columbus Zoo, Mr. Roberts cited a recent report from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which found that, despite millions of dollars spent on high profile zoo-based education campaigns, the results were inconclusive as to whether there was any serious educational benefit or not.

"I guess this is the worst kind of wake-up call," concluded Roberts. "We've seen it time and again over the years — that tigers and other wild animals are dangerous and that they simply should not be objects of human entertainment. Born Free USA is inviting concerned citizens to visit our website (www.bornfreeusa.org) and contact us to have their say. For once, let us truly learn from this latest incident and take whatever action is needed to ensure that a tragedy of this kind never happens again.”

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