On Bipeds & Brutes

National Museum of Animals & Society Blog

If A Critically Endangered Tiger Dies in a Zoo and Nobody Cares…

Seri. Image via El Paso Zoo.

Seri. Image via El Paso Zoo.

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?

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3 responses to “If A Critically Endangered Tiger Dies in a Zoo and Nobody Cares…

  1. Concerned Keeper January 29, 2012 at 1:57 pm

    I was actually a keeper on duty in Asia at the time of this incident, and the answer is no, the zoo is not looking into it. As a keeper I am horrified that the Asia supervisor, Griselda Martinez, who knows very little about animal behavior and even less about proper husbandry was in charge of these beautiful animals. The keepers in this building have been known to accidentally release carnivores into unsecured keeper areas, and the veterinarian in charge has accidentally overdosed animals, causing death, because of her inept math skills. This zoo is a shining example of what NOT to do, and every time they lose an animal, the director, Steve Marshall, goes on tv to talk about how he can’t wait for the replacement to come in. It’s a horrible environment to work in, and the decent keepers have no say in how the neglectful management blunders on into these tragedies.

    • Sad Volunteer June 19, 2013 at 11:02 am

      Concerned Keeper, I’m pretty certain I know who you are. And once I’m done typing, you’ll probably know who I am if you get notification for this. The zoo is a rabbit hole that only goes deeper the longer you stay there. I’ve volunteered everywhere around the zoo and I’ve heard stories that back you up entirely. I’ve seen some high ranking officials say and do some pretty stupid things. The veterinarian is dreadful. The education department is a joke. Griselda is glorified as if she knows everything, when I’ve heard keepers in the Atrium sighing over another stupid decision here or there-without them knowing that I was there.

      Keeper, I would love to give you a hug if I could. None of you should have to deal with Steve’s stupidity. At least I can leave with no problem because it isn’t my livelihood. I would never be able to withstand these people if it was. You’re a stronger person than I am.

      El Paso Zoo is a terrible enviroment and I look forward to leaving it soon. I hope you can get out too, CK.

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