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Born Free USA Blog

Born Free USA Blog

Tony Is Free!

Published 07/06/10
By Susan Trout, Program Assistant

Sad news. Tony, the patriarch tiger of the San Francisco zoo, was humanely euthanized last week. Tony lived at the zoo since 1993. He was 18 years-old, weighed 400 pounds and was according to reports the second oldest male Siberian tiger in North America. Astoundingly, there are only a few hundred Siberian tigers remaining in the world.

The article conveys a lot of emotion — from the zookeepers to the zoo patrons who have called, sent notes and flowers, and left messages of condolence. Clearly, Tony will be missed. It's not the first time that emotions were laid bare at the San Francisco Zoo regarding the loss of a magnificent big cat. Tony's mate, Tatiana, met a tragic end when she escaped her compound in December 2007 and attacked and killed a 17-year old boy and injured two others. Tatiana was shot to death by police.

Where are we going with this, you ask? Well, to the question that so many of us ask when we hear these stories — "Why do we keep these wild creatures in captivity"? The question begs more questions. What if Tony could have been born in the wild and eventually became a mature tiger? He could have found a mate and produced cubs. They may have survived and grown to adults and continued the cycle of life, helping to bolster the dwindling population. He would have lived the life he was meant to live — free to roam and be a wild tiger. He would have encountered many dangers — mostly those arising from man's interference — but he at least would have had the opportunity to be a wild animal, living as nature intended him to live. According to zoo officials, Tony had no offspring. His sister, Emily, died of cancer at the zoo. The article encourages people to send donations to the zoo in Tony's memory. And what will the donations do? Plans do not include a replacement for Tony. That's comforting news but they want to focus their "cat" resources on lion breeding. Oh, please!

While there is no question that many zoos around the country have significantly improved and/or enlarged the living environments of many species of animals they hold captive, animal experts are discovering that there are behaviors that simply have yet to be understood but are intrinsically important to the health of a particular creature. Many times satisfying those behaviors is difficult or impossible to accomplish in captivity.

Zoos spend millions of dollars attempting to care for and house wild animals. Why not devote more of this revenue to protecting and preserving natural habitats — helping animals to live in their real environments? Ever wonder just how much zoos devote to habitat preservation and protection?

For some eye-opening facts, see the Born Free article Animal Ark or Sinking Ship?.

Still convinced that we need zoos in order to create a desire to protect and preserve wild creatures?

People often respond to questions about animals in captivity with remarks like, "But how else can we see these animals up close? How else can we appreciate them"? Frankly, knowing that we are doing everything we can to save them and protect them in the wild and to know that they are "free", accepting all the perils that accompany that freedom, is enough for me. Television provides access to wonderful nature programs featuring up-close encounters with all kinds of wild creatures in the wild, allowing the viewer to catch amazing glimpses of "natural" behavior. We get to see them being all of what they were intended to be — not caricatures lounging lazily in a zoo compound. Yes, they are fed. Yes, they get the best of vet care. Yes, they are loved by their keepers. But do you ever wonder if each animal were given the choice of being "wild" and free, or captive and pampered, they'd choose the later? Would any of us choose to be held captive — even if every one of our basic needs were met? Of course not.

Let's strive to make Tony's legacy one of working toward saving and preserving the magnificent Siberian tiger in his native lands. We are the "reasoning" species. We have the ability to powerfully and positively impact our world. We can save the Siberian tiger. We must.

Instead of just sending letters and donations in Tony's memory to the San Francisco Zoo, how about we send letters suggesting they make their Big Cat exhibit a sanctuary for "rescued" felines. How about we ask the zoo, to not put money into breeding more lions, but to instead rescue the lions that are already alive and suffering in tiny cages in roadside zoos or people's back yards. In Tony's memory, why doesn't the zoo help individual big cats who are suffering today — or donate to true conservation of lions and tigers in the wild!

Why don't you send the zoo your suggestions today for better ways to honor Tony than to breed more lions!

San Francisco Zoo
1 Zoo Road
San Francisco, CA 94132.

Tony, you are forever free now.

Til next time!


PS. Why not be the eyes and ears of our zoo check program? Help us track abuses and substandard conditions suffered by animals in zoos, aquariums, circuses, or other places that exhibits animals by filling out a Zoo Check form.

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