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National Museum of Animals & Society Blog
A female tiger is jealous of her mate’s affections for another female, and in her anger, ends up killing her mate instead of her rival.
It could be a great allegory for the absurdity of human jealousy if Aesop had written it. But when it happens in real life, in a zoo setting, with a critically endangered species, should it really be played up for comedic effect?
On September 8, three-year-old female Malayan tiger Seri grabbed six-year-old male Wzui by the neck and killed him at the El Paso Zoo. Seri had been brought to El Paso earlier this year from the San Diego Zoo as an intended mate for Wzui; however, apparently she did not get along well with 15-year-old female Melor, reportedly exhibiting signs of “jealousy” over Wzui’s affections toward Melor.
I’ve seen this story bouncing around the media for the past week or so; the headline always catches my eye, as it invariably refers to a “tiger love triangle” gone awry. As far as I can tell, the source of the original wording of this story came from this Reuters piece; it was then picked up and reprinted in its entirety in the Los Angeles Times. Reuters refers to the incident which led to the male tiger’s death as the result of “months of simmering jealousy in a feline love triangle.”
If Seri had killed her keeper, or escaped and killed a zoo visitor,would the tone of this story be so flippant? And humans aren’t even endangered.
It’s not anthropomorphism to say that animals have emotions, at least not in my opinion. But to act like an incident in which a member of a critically endangered species was killed in a captive setting in a way that may have been entirely preventable is just some wacky animal version of “Melrose Place” strikes me as wildly irresponsible.
Is the El Paso Zoo investigating Wzui’s death and if the keepers could’ve done anything to prevent it? Is Seri a threat to Melor or zoo employees? What will happen to Seri, and what is the fate of the Zoo’s Malayan tiger breeding program? These are all relevant and important questions, yet Reuters makes no effort to answer them in their report.
We need to hold the press accountable when they make grievous errors such as this. Television, print, and online media are where people get their news, and the way that news is presented helps to dictate and influence people’s understanding and feelings toward the particular subject of discussion. If we allow the media to report that the premature death in captivity of a critically endangered animal is just some “human interest” or “weird news” story, it creates the false impression that tigers aren’t endangered, that Wzui’s death isn’t important, and that there was nothing that could’ve been done differently to prevent it. Putting the blame strictly on Seri’s “jealousy” over Wzui’s affections for Melor not only removes culpability from the El Paso Zoo and hampers the cause of tiger conservation – it’s also downright misogynistic, if you ask me.
What do you think the public can do to hold the media accountable for the way they discuss animal issues? How should this story have been presented?